United’s youth team suffered their first defeat in the Youth Alliance Cup as they narrowly lost out to Hartlepool United in a closely-fought encounter.
A moment of magic six minutes from time was enough for the visitors, with United later reduced to ten men as Kieron Olsen was dismissed for two bookable offences.
Having lost 7-0 in their last outing, Darren Edmondson’s men were keen to bounce back and they started brightly with Belchoir Papa picking out Jay Kelly at the back post, only for the full-back's shot to be deflected wide.
It was Pools, however, who had the first meaningful chance of the game on seven minutes as a long-range strike proved too hot to handle for Lee Ashton who could only parry it onto the bar before gathering at the second attempt.
Ashton was again called into action to hold a curling effort from the edge of the area, but only after Hartlepool’s stopper had to make a smart save himself to tip Sam Adewusi’s effort around the post.
And United finished the half strongly with Josh Dixon twice going close - first seeing a shot saved after a slick move before he stole the ball off a defender’s toe and surged forward only to be denied by the keeper once again.
Chances continued to come after the break with a fine counter attack allowing Papa to feed in Kelly who advanced into the area before drilling agonisingly wide of the far post.
But the visitors were still threatening and had a golden opportunity to take the lead when their front two swapped passes to create space for a shot, but the eventual effort was sliced well wide.
Hartlepool continued to gain momentum and could have taken the lead were it not for a timely intervention from Kelly who slid in well to stop a shot from 12 yards.
Pools then saw a header drop just wide of Ashton’s post during a strong spell of pressure, with the stopper then called into action to save down low after the visitor’s right winger had found himself through on goal.
And the visitors’ pressure eventually told when they took the lead on 84 minutes courtesy of a fine solo run and finish into the top corner.
Things then went from bad to worse for the Blues as a late challenge from Olsen saw him pick up a second yellow card, with the youngsters unable to fashion any chances in the dying stages of the game.
That meant a first defeat in the competition for United who created more than their fair share of chances in a tight game.
United XI: Ashton, Kelly (Brockbank 75), Olsen, Watson, Taylor, Hutchinson, Miller (Galloway 87), Casson (McCarron 75), Papa, Adewusi, Dixon. Subs - Lightfoot, Wilson.
Bookings: Papa (76), Olsen (81 & 90 - sent off), Adewusi (87).
United's youth midfielder Dean Watson felt his side were unlucky to fall defeat in their cup clash with Hartlepool United.
“We were really unlucky,” he admitted. “We missed some good chances throughout the game and they got one chance at the end and took it.
“A draw would have given us a chance to progress through in the cup so it wasn't nice to get beat. It isn’t nice to be out of the cup but at least we can focus on the league now."
Having lost 7-0 to Walsall in their last outing, the Cumbrians were looking for a much improved performance against Pools, and they got that despite the defeat.
And Watson was quick to praise the display and is keen to use it as a building block moving forward.
He said: “It was definitely much better than last week. We didn’t crumble after going a goal down this time and we stuck together. I think we played much better after we went behind.
“We just need to take our chances and improve our decision making in the final third. We played a lot better as a team this week than last week so hopefully we can carry that into next week’s game.”
It’s an important year for Watson and his fellow second year scholars who are all in search of a professional contract. But despite results not being what they have wanted, Watson feels his team mates have performed well and is looking for them all to push on as the season progresses.
“I feel like we’ve been unlucky in some games but we’ve been playing quite well,” the midfielder said. “We need to push ourselves as far as we can go to hopefully get a contract at the end of the season.”