Hartlepool 5 Bradford City 0
This was a night for City’s understudies to prove to Phil Parkinson they could fill the leading roles if required.
Instead they fluffed their lines spectacularly in a humiliating loss to a side who had not won a game before last night – a team that had only scored one goal.
That wretched start for one-time City number two Colin Cooper was put right in emphatic fashion and the lop-sided scoreline did not flatter.
City’s performance was inexcusable. Even with the changes, there was enough experience and know-how to have done much, much better.
Bizarrely, it was the first time for eight years that City had played a cup tie against a league team from a lower division. You wouldn’t have guessed it – they made Hartlepool look like Liverpool.
The Johnstone’s Paint Trophy may be very low on the priority list but the 320 away fans who made the trip to Victoria Park deserved so much better.
Parkinson had kept within the competition rules by fielding six regular starters. You could not just blame rust for a night that was totally out of character for a side who currently lie seventh in League One.
City had made the early running as Thompson, playing centre forward, tested Scott Flinders on the half volley. Then Rory McArdle should have done better with two headers at corners.
But once Hartlepool seized a 24th-minute lead, they never looked back.
The opener was made in Bradford as former Avenue right back Michael Duckworth’s cross was headed into the mix by one-time City winger Jack Compton for Luke James to give Connor Ripley no chance.
The debutant keeper pulled off a flying save from Andy Monkhouse as it quickly became a blue-and-white procession towards his goal.
Stephen Darby stretched to deny Compton a tap-in and a combination of keeper and just enough amber bodies scrambled away a Christian Burgess header from the resulting corner.
James was causing havoc and slipped away from McArdle on another dangerous raid before Matt Taylor managed to get enough on his block to deflect the shot just over the City bar.
They were almost undone from a corner as Brad Walker jabbed goalwards but Ricky Ravenhill cleared off the line. It had been another poor first half on the road – a growing theme of late.
City switched from a 4-3-3 that hadn’t worked to conventional 4-4-2 after the interval. But things got even worse.
Hartlepool needed only three minutes to go two up. Jonathan Franks fired against Nathan Doyle, now playing centre half, and as the crowd screamed for handball the midfielder smashed the rebound past the diving Ripley.
The embarrassment continued to grow. Compton, relishing every touch against his former employers, floated a free-kick towards the penalty spot, where centre half Christian Burgess rose highest to head home unbothered.
And three minutes later, Ricky Ravenhill sent James tumbling in the corner of the box. Compton, inevitably, stepped up for the spot-kick and slammed it in the roof of the net.
Last year’s contest had needed penalties to separate the sides after 90 minutes of stalemate. This one was done and dusted with half an hour to spare.
The 320 away fans – a great effort again – cranked up the gallows humour with ironic chants of “easy, easy” whenever City mounted any kind of response. Sub Kyel Reid at least forced a low save from Flinders – to a loud cheer from behind that goal.
But the agony was not over. Nialle Rodney, the young striker who had scored the decisive spot-kick for Parkinson’s side at Hudders-field two seasons ago, came off the bench to grab number five with an acrobatic overhead kick.
After the cup glory of last season, the Bantams have now dropped out of two knock-out competitions at the first stage.
Defeat in the JPT may not matter that much but there are ways of losing. By the high standards that City have set, this was just unacceptable.
Of course, it will be swiftly forgotten if Brentford are beaten at fortress Valley Parade on Saturday. But don’t expect any of the second string to make it into the main cast after such a dire audition.
HARTLEPOOL: Flinders 6, Duckworth 7, Baldwin 6, Burgess 7, Austin 6, Franks 7, Walker 7 (Walton 68min), Dolan 7, Compton 8 (Poole 76min), James 9 (Rodney 68min), Monkhouse 8. Subs (not used): Collins, Walton, Rafferty.
CITY: Ripley 4, Darby 4, McArdle 4 (Connell 46min, 4), Taylor 4, Meredith 4 (McHugh 46min, 4), Ravenhill 4, Doyle 4, Kennedy 4, De Vita 4, Thompson 4 (Reid 75min), Yeates 4. Subs (not used): Wells, McLaughlin.