Top Rankin heads Brentford through

Hartlepool United 0 - Brentford 1

Southampton of the Premiership await Brentford in the FA Cup at St Mary's next Saturday after Martin Allen's team became the first victorious visitors to Victoria Park this season, a goal by the one-time Arsenal striker Isaiah Rankin being enough to deny Hartlepool a first appearance in the fifth round.

Southampton of the Premiership await Brentford in the FA Cup at St Mary's next Saturday after Martin Allen's team became the first victorious visitors to Victoria Park this season, a goal by the one-time Arsenal striker Isaiah Rankin being enough to deny Hartlepool a first appearance in the fifth round.

The odds were always against Hartlepool after Jack Ross was sent off after eight minutes, but in the end it was defensive heroics that won the day for Brentford, centre- backs Sam Sodje and Michael Turner outstanding in protecting the advantage.

The teams are both in contention for the play-offs in League One, although Brentford have the daunting record of having won all of the last eight League meetings between the sides.

In a goalless but lively first half, Hartlepool's optimism had been deflated and pumped up again within the space of a few seconds as Brentford made the more positive beginning. The home side conceded the penalty and lost a man whenRoss brought down Stephen Hunt, but were granted an instant fillip when Hunt took the kick and the home goalkeeper, Dimi Konstantopoulos, dived to his right to save.

Neale Cooper, the Hartlepool manager, had predicted "a fireworks game" that he would have paid to watch, but this was probably not what he had in mind. His head still spinning from the dismissal of Ross - a harsh but probably inevitable consequence, given that he was the last defender - Cooper was then himself lectured by the referee, Lee Mason, after a touchline confrontation with Brentford's John Salako.

The save made Konstantopoulos the hero of the moment, although the loss of a man skewed the balance of the contest. Cooper was forced to reorganise, leaving Adam Boyd as his only striker, and his plans were further complicated by the withdrawal after 30 minutes of the former Leeds midfielder Mark Tinkler, who had suffered a blow to the head shortly after the penalty.

In the meantime, with a strong wind blowing in their favour, Brentford had been the more threatening force, although the closest they came to going ahead was though a long-range effort by Rankin that hit the bar.

Hartlepool found it difficult to muster a meaningful response, but one shot by Joel Porter towards half-time had the home crowd scrambling to their feet before it swerved wide.

It was with the wind against them that Brentford took the lead, three minutes into the second half. After Jay Tabb, a half-time substitute for Hunt, had won a corner on the left, a clever set-piece routine completely flummoxed Hartlepool. Eddie Hutchinson met Stuart Talbot's kick with a near-post flick and Rankin was left unmarked to head home at the far post.

At least the goal obliged Hartlepool to press forward in greater numbers. The visitors now had something to defend, and after Brentford's Chris Hargreaves sent a rising drive over the bar, Sodje denied the home side by intercepting a Porter cross with a header over his own net before Ben May, replacing Deon Burton, narrowly missed with his first touch.

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