FOR the first time this season, Hartlepool United dropped points from a winning position.
In going down at AFC Wimbledon, conceding two goals in as many second-half minutes, boss Colin Cooper was left deflated with the outcome.
It was a game they shouldn’t have even drawn, let alone lost.
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And after nine wins from nine games when they have been ahead this season in League Two, their record ended at the Cherry Red Records Stadium in Kingston.
Positive from the off, they carried a threat going forward throughout, but a defensive lapse gifted the home side a leveller and, just like in their previous away game at Fleetwood, they conceded a quick second on the back of it.
“The disappointing thing is their goalkeeper has all the saves to make other than early in the second half,’’ reflected Cooper.
“Other than that first goal, we also had enough to finish the game off and allowed them to ease their way back into a game that was a million miles away.
“We played nice football – the sort I want to play. But our supporters will go away and not remember that.
“Their goalkeeper made three or four excellent saves – when needed he was called upon and kept them in the game.’’ And tellingly, Cooper added: “It was a bombardment and their manager and assistant manager admitted they were looking to do that and put us under pressure. As the pressure mounts, you make decisions that aren’t the right ones.
“The only thing we said is when we get our noses in front we win games – this time we got in front and got pegged back.
“Hopefully that feeling won’t leave the players and we will get back to winning games.’’ Going forward, Pools were positive. Marlon Harewood grew into the game in the second period and went close, while Luke Williams pulled plenty of attacking strings.
“I had a word with Marlon after 20 minutes, he was slowly finding his way into the and he got there,’’ said Cooper.
“A goal the second half when he fired just over would have made him a lot better. But he was part of a really, really decent away performance, but we have been turned over.
“Marlon has helped take some of the bombardment off Luke James and I have to say I know Luke Williams looks a class above anything on the pitch – but he is a Middlesbrough player and not ours.’’
Two minutes in and Bradley Walker showed his intention. A low shot was held by Ross Worner, but it wasn’t long before the goalkeeper was diving full-length to push a first-time curling shot from under the crossbar.
Williams set Pools away on the counter-attack with a swift move through the middle, although the move lost impetus when he pushed the ball out wide to James.
Simon Walton was impressive throughout and from his deep, rangy set-piece, Christian Burgess looked set to score, but missed his header and keeper Worner was happy to see it bounce the far side of the post.
James’ goal – number 12 of the season – came from a moment of class from Williams, who opened up space on the right, crossed and Andy Monkhouse nodded down for James to net.
The Dons put Charlie Wyke on at the break to make it three Middlesbrough loanees on the pitch (Christian Burgess the other) and within seconds he drove forward with determination and forced a save from Flinders to set the second-half tone.
Harewood and Monkhouse – with a fine volley - went close for Pools, but the game soon turned against them.
Flinders went walkabout off his line, missed a long free kick pumped into the area, and Will Antwi touched in.
There was nothing he could do about the second, Danny Hylton picking out the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
Pools still pressed for a leveller, that didn’t come and all they had to take home was plaudits from home boss Neil Ardley.
“We rode our luck at times and some of Hartlepool’s play in and around our box was what I want to bring here to our team,’’ he said.
Cooper would much rather have had the points.