Ian Evatt rued missed opportunities as Wanderers crashed out of the Papa John’s Trophy.
The Whites were guilty of failing to kill Hartlepool off before the break and then handed the League Two side a late winner as the prospect of a Wembley trip disappeared in a disappointing 1-0 defeat.
Wanderers dominated for most of the 90 minutes on a freezing cold night in the North East but allowed Pools to claim a quarter-final spot when goalkeeper Joel Dixon’s error gifted Matty Daly the only goal six minutes from the end.
“We completely controlled the game after the first 10 minutes,” said Evatt, who handed debuts to new arrivals Dion Charles and Marlon Jossey in a powerful line-up.
“We had lots of opportunities in the first half but didn’t take them and then got punished with a bad mistake at the end.
“To lose that game really hurts because I think we beat ourselves rather than Hartlepool beating us.
“This was a glorious chance to get to Wembley. We were only two games away from it if we’d won tonight and we’ve somehow beaten ourselves and shot ourselves in the foot. It’s very frustrating.”
Charles played for an hour in his first appearance since October and showed exciting glimpses of what’s to come, while on-loan Fulham full-back Fossey was one of the stand-out performers of the first half.
Evatt is looking to add further to his squad and with only one competition left to focus on, will be looking to make strides back up the League One table when Wanderers resume their campaign at home to Wycombe next Tuesday night.
“They gave us good energy and will improve as they get fitter and stronger,” added the Whites boss, who is also welcoming back Kieran Lee and Gethin Jones to training this week.
“Marlon, in particular, I think was exceptional so there were positives, but to come away losing that game is very frustrating.
“We’ve got half a season left in the league and we’ve got to be better than we’ve been for the last couple of months, without a doubt.
“We have to take on the chin, what’s happened, come back out of this COVID stronger and with people coming back from injuries and new players hopefully arriving soon there’s lots to look forward to.
“But tonight we have to be disappointed with that. That was a great opportunity for us to progress.”