FOOTBALL served up one of those infuriating afternoons when everything United attempted failed to result in the one goal required for all three points.
Hartlepool were stubborn and determined to salvage a draw after making the painful journey down from the North-East, and they got their reward on a frustrating day for the Gulls.
The best Yellow chances arguably came in the first five minutes but the ball simply would not drop for the early goal that would have changed the whole complexion of the match.
United manager Alan Knill made just one change from the side that recorded a terrific 2-1 win at Northampton last weekend. Scorers of both goals at Sixfields, Jordan Chapell, naturally kept his place on the wing but the opposite flank saw Billy Bodin come back in for Courtney Cameron.
Hartlepool boss Colin Cooper also limited himself to just the one change from the side beaten 1-0 by Fleetwood seven days ago, with Jonathan Franks replacing James Poole in attack.
The Gulls started like a side in form, while Hartlepool began like a team at the bottom. As such, a poor slip from the visiting defence within 10 seconds of the start offered Callum Ball space in the left channel.
His cross squirmed to the penalty-spot area where Chapell looked certain to add to his growing tally, but was denied by a superb block-tackle from Christian Burgess. The ball bobbled around for a few more seconds before Chapell had another go with a low stinging drive but was denied by good hands from goalkeeper Scott Flinders.
Hartlepool were under a Yellow siege in the Plainmoor sun and Karl Hawley was unlucky to see his glancing header drift over. Krystian Pearce then rose highest from a corner but could not direct his header goalwards with Flinders horribly out of position.
Eventually, the Pools recovered their composure long enough for loan midfielder Matthew Dolan to spread a lovely wide for Neil Austin to slide over a low cross and United were grateful to Aaron Downes for a fine block on the imposing Steve Howard.
Proceedings were then held up for Howard, formerly a bruising target-man with Luton and Leicester, to receive lengthy treatment on a blow to the head.
The next Hartlepool threat came in the form of speedy left-winger Jack Compton, son of former United player and manager Paul, darting in between Dale Tonge and Pearce, but the final cross was well cleared by Downes.
After such a frantic start, the game had settled into a frustrating period of midfield tussling without any real creative spark from either side. Chapell continued to look United’s best option in attack, while Howard was having a petulant afternoon for the visitors, earning himself a caution on 28 minutes.
The Gulls finally conjured up some space in the increasingly frugal Hartlepool defence when Ball executed a clever reverse pass for Bodin, but the young Welshman sliced his meek shot into the Family Stand hoardings.
Moments later, Ball opted to go alone, picking up a Ben Harding pass on the edge of the box to turn inside on his left foot and steer a lovely curling effort inches past the top corner. In response, a Compton free-kick was headed comfortably wide by Howard.
United’s general problem had developed into the odd stray pass disrupting their rhythm and, with Hartlepool guilty of similar sloppiness, chances had become increasingly hard to find.
The half ended with a scuttling shot from Lee Mansell causing momentary panic in the away defence but Austin was on hand to clear, and the interval brought a reshuffle by Cooper, with the tempestuous Howard replaced by Luke James.
Three minutes into the restart, a floated cross from Chapell was dropped by Flinders under minimal pressure but Ball’s attempt to lash home the rebound was deflected wide by Burgess.
United then created one of their best chances of the afternoon, as Bodin found a pocket of space 30 yards from goal and slipped a pass wide to Ball, who swiftly returned the favour for the Welshman’s run into the six-yard area, but the final shot was stabbed over.
The next attack saw Ball again operating in the left channel but his cross was agonisingly beyond the dual runs of Hawley and Chapell, and Plainmoor sagged in frustration at an opportunity missed.
Hartlepool’s response was a clipped pass over the top from former Plymouth midfielder Simon Walton finding the run of James, who had plenty of power in his drive but was thwarted by the previously under-employed Martin Rice in United’s goal.
Knill had seen enough by 63 minutes, removing Bodin for Cameron and the new man took just a few minutes to find Ball with a lovely pass inside, but the lively striker on loan from Derby fired his half-volley narrowly past the upright.
Chapell and Ball then combined to force the ball across, only for Walton to make an excellent clearance in front of his own goal. Cooper quickly reacted by removing Compton for Andy Monkhouse. United’s next change came in midfield, where Damon Lathrope replaced Harding.
As the game entered the final 15 minutes, Hartlepool had clearly set their stall out to hold on for a point to make the long journey home worthwhile, although that plan was nearly scuppered when Jack Baldwin forced his own ‘keeper into a smart save with his mis-directed header from a Cameron cross.
It was time for one final roll of the Yellow dice and Hawley was withdrawn for Elliot Benyon. The substitute had the ball in the net within a minute but it was swiftly, and correctly, ruled out for offside.
The Gulls huffed and puffed to the end, but Hartlepool held on for the point they so badly wanted.
United [4-4-2]: 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 4 Aaron Downes, 3 Kevin Nicholson; 10 Billy Bodin [11 Courtney Cameron 65], 7 Lee Mansell [capt], 8 Ben Harding [6 Damon Lathrope 76], 12 Jordan Chapell; 9 Karl Hawley [26 Elliot Benyon 81], 16 Callum Ball. Substitutes [not used]: 15 Niall Thompson, 21 Thomas Cruise, 31 Daniel Sullivan, 33 Conor Thompson [GK].
Booked: Ball 83
Hartlepool [4-4-2]: 1 Scott Flinders; 21 Michael Duckworth, 6 Jack Baldwin, 35 Christian Burgess, 2 Neil Austin; 38 Brad Walker, 4 Matthew Dolan, 8 Simon Walton, 14 Jack Compton [11 Andy Monkhouse 70]; 7 Jonathan Franks, 9 Steve Howard [33 Luke James H-T]. Substitutes [not used]: 5 Sam Collins, 10 James Poole, 13 Andy Rafferty [GK], 22 Darren Holden, 23 Nialle Rodney.
Booked: Howard 28, Walker 48
Referee: Oliver Langford
Attendance: 2,646 [89 away].