HARTLEPOOL United's last night lost for the first time in 2003 as their 11-game unbeaten stretch came to an end at Lincoln.

Pool's last defeat was 2-0 at Hull on Boxing Day - but last night they went one worse as their lead at the top of Division Three was cut to nine points after Rushden came back to win at Bournemouth.

Like on Saturday at Darlington, Pool's second half performance was far better than their first and like Saturday they were up against a goalkeeper who wasn't going to be beaten easily.

For Andy Collett read Alan Marriott, who made a number of fine saves to keep a shaky single-goal lead intact.

But against a team whose ambition stretches to winning throw-ins and corners, and in front of a home crowd who applaud set pieces as much as some appreciate a goal, Pool couldn't find a way through.

Pool have come a long way since last season's visit to Sincil Bank. After a 2-0 reverse on September 25, 2001 they were 23rd in Division Three, fielding a team including Ormerod, Lormor and Clark.

From their first long throw of the night launched into the penalty area - and there were plenty of them - Micky Barron blocked a volley from Shane Bradley, the striker signed yesterday from Chesterfield.

Mark Robinson got forward to send over a cross which was cleared as far as Mark Tinkler and his first-time shot was almost turned in by Darrell Clarke.

Keeper Alan Marriott made a flying 17th minute save to keep out Graeme Lee's strong header from Tommy Widdrington's corner on the right and minutes later the defender nodded wide from an identical set piece.

When Pool had the ball their football was causing problems for the home side, what they had to ensure was their work-rate and graft off the ball was at least a match for their opponents.

Clarke missed a cracking chance when he latched onto Mark Tinkler's flick only to crash his volley high over the net.

When Pool switched off in defence, they went behind.

A free-kick chipped into the area was allowed to drop and Allan Pearce, with his back to goal, volleyed over his head beyond Anthony Williams.

And just 40 seconds into the second period, they could have been two down - again from a free-kick. This time gangly defender Ben Futcher found space in the six-yard-box and only a poor touch saved Pool as Anthony Williams smothered.

Clarke could have made up for his earlier indiscretion when Tinkler broke away and found him in space, but the big frame of Futcher deflected his shot to safety.

Pool started turning the screw, but Lincoln's spoiling tactics were working a treat for the home side. At Victoria Park in September they failed to get away with it as Pool turned around a 1-0 deficit, but would they this time?

Ritchie Humphreys threaded a ball through the home defence for Eifion Williams, but, after getting the ball clear of his feet, his shot was blocked by Marriott.

Boyd's header from Humphreys' throw was tipped over by Marriott and from the corner Lee's thumping header was hacked off the line.

Pool switched play from left to right and Barron's cross was met by Tinkler, but he could only thump an effort over the bar.

Pool fell two down on 83 minutes when Peter Gain raced in behind Barron on the left and shot low across Williams into the far corner of the net.

And there was still time for a disappointing third when substitute Matthew Bloomer headed a loose ball high into the net

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