Hartlepool 3 Crewe Alexandra 0: Bright start fades fast for Steve Davis's side
CREWE showed the dark side of their inconsistency as they stumbled to a three-goal defeat beside the North Sea.
The Alex started brightly, but faded fast and a trio of defensive blunders handed three points on a plate to struggling Hartlepool.
Gregor Robertson was found wanting at the back post as Charlie Wyke gave the hosts the lead and Luke Murphy gave the ball away too easily before Jonathan Franks made it two in the first half.
Crewe never looked like hauling themselves back into the game and were subjected to more misery in second-half stoppage time when Steve Phillips spilled a shot and Andy Monkhouse hammered home a third.
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It leaves Crewe 11 points outside the play-offs with only 13 games remaining to make up the difference.
Chuks Aneke and Ajay Leitch-Smith were restored to the team with centre-halfHarry Davis and forward Mathias Pogba making way as Steve Davis opted to go with a 4-1-3-2 formation.
Byron Moore went up front with Aneke tucked behind and Abdul Osman in a holding role.
Hartlepool were unchanged from the side who beat Scunthorpe 2-1 last weekend.
The Alex immediately clicked into passing mode, playing keep ball for the first five minutes as they sized up the relegation-haunted Monkey Hangers.
Before six minutes were on the clock, Pools needed to clear a corner after a frantic scramble, watched as Murphy's inviting cross whipped just in front of Leitch-Smith and then called on Evan Horwood to make a last-ditch tackle after Moore was put clear by Leitch-Smith.
But the visitors were almost behind in the 10th minute when a dead ball fell kindly for Franks in the area, but a huge swing of his leg could not generate enough power to get a shot past Phillips.
Kelvin Mellor dived in to block Simon Walton's follow-up with his head, although the attacking side claimed he had used his hand and Crewe finally cleared the danger.
The incident seemed to spark a dose of the jitters in the Crewe rearguard that lasted the rest of the first half.
Phillips almost collided with Mark Ellis as the pair tried to stop Wyke collecting a loose ball between the defence and goal.
Wyke ended up on the deck and three-quarters of Victoria Park appealed for a free-kick which might have resulted in a red card for either Alex player, but the complaints were not too strong when nothing was forthcoming from referee Darren Drysdale.
Straight down the other end, Moore accelerated on the counter attack and spun a shot narrowly past the right upright from the left side of the box.
Jack Baldwin took inspiration and soon delivered a crackerjack long ranger of his own, dipping fractionally wide of Phillips' right post .
And the home side got it right in the 27th minute, however, when Baldwin beat Robertson to a cross at the back post and pushed the ball inside for Wyke to hammer into the net under pressure from Ellis.
Crewe settled and created a decent opening when Moore and Leitch-Smith played a neat one-two in the box before Baldwin slid in to prevent the forwards advancing any further.
And Alex's hopes took a kicking five minutes before half-time when Murphy, trying to play a long pass through the eye of a needle towards Robertson, ended up losing possession cheaply.
Neil Baker was still venting his spleen at the Crewe captain from the sidelines as the ball was quickly worked to Franks 20 yards out and the winger too easily brushed aside Mellor's attentions and stroked past Phillips.
For all their bluster in the opening stages, the Railwaymen went into the break trailing 2-0.
Hartlepool kept up their attacking intent at the start of the second half and James Poole was the first to test Phillips after cutting inside from wide right and shooting at the near post.
It was Poole who had been booked for a hefty foul on Inman just after the interval and the Alex loanee only lasted five minutes after the restart, limping off to be replaced by Pogba.
The home side retained the bigger threat and Phillips needed to produce a fine low save to keep out Wyke's header from Franks' left-wing cross shortly before Horwood bent a wicked left-foot volley which the keeper pushed wide for a corner.
It took until the hour mark for Crewe to force their first real effort of the half, with Aneke clattering through the masses to get on the end of Murphy's outswinging corner only to send a header wide with Scott Flinders dithering.
Dangerous Franks smashed a shot over and Pogba was fortunate not to concede a penalty for a tug on the same player before Max Clayton was introduced in place of Aneke in the 72nd minute to try to give the visitors some attacking impetus.
The Alex shifted to a 4-2-4 system, with Pogba and Moore on opposite flanks, but it was Franks who remained the biggest threat on the park, firing a long-distance effort whistling past the angle of bar and post after Murphy was caught trying to turn in his own half.
Chances really were at a premium and Ryan Colclough came off the bench for Leitch-Smith hoping to help open up the Hartlepool defence.
It was the unlikely source of Robertson that offered hope in the 86th minute, driving forward from left-back to have a deflected shot spin out for a corner without ever really scaring Flinders.
Pogba's efforts to reach the set piece only managed to win another corner as Crewe tried to camp out in the final third.
However, it was the home side, who had defended valiantly in numbers, who had the final say.
Franks forced a decent save from Phillips on the counter attack in injury time, but the keeper fumbled, produced two superb stops to deny Wyke then watched helplessly as Monkhouse smashed the third rebound into the net.