SCORING when on top in a game of football will always be vitally important and United paid dearly for their profligacy in a dominant first half against Hartlepool.
The visitors survived the onslaught and then inflicted a classic three-point raid with goals from Rhys Oates and Jonathan Franks after the break to leave the Gulls ruing the missed opportunities.
United Head Coach Gary Owers made two enforced changes from the side that won so valiantly at Ebbsfleet in midweek, with Jennison Myrie-Williams and Ruairi Keating coming in for the injured Rhys Murphy and Liam Davis, who was with his partner for the birth of their child.
Hartlepool boss Craig Harrison also had to do some squad-shuffling, bringing in Blair Adams, Luke George and Michael Ledger for Lewis Hawkins, Rhys Oates and Devante Rodney.
Myrie-Williams was deployed in the role of left wing-back and immediately caused Liam Donnelly a problem, running into the channel and a clumsy challenge from the visiting right-back inside the first two minutes could have easily led to a penalty.
The positive start from United continued with another Myrie-Williams surge and a low cross well cleared. The subsequent fell to Josh McQuoid for a skidding drive well held by Scott Loach in the Hartlepool goal.
A lovely ball down the line by Ryan Higgins then released the legs of Jamie Reid for a channel run, cutting back inside for a delicious left-foot cross cleared by Louis Laing under heavy pressure from Keating at the back stick.
The next cross from Higgins was somehow even better, swinging over a wonderful delivery from the right and Keating almost had too much time with the header, steering his effort wide of Loach’s left-hand post.
United were swarming all over the visitors and a weaving run from Josh McQuoid ended with a fierce drive from 18 yards, but huge respect to Loach for an outstanding one-handed save low to his left.
Hartlepool finally broke the shackles with a decent run forward from left-back Blair Adams, exchanging passes on a couple of occasions before finding the target with a shot comfortably held by Vincent Dorel.
The Gulls came back with another break down the right and a fizzing low cross from Reid just needed a touch for the opening goal. Young, Higgins and McQuid then engineered room for Reid to twist and turn on the edge of the Pools box before a curling effort narrowly wide.
United kept on creating chances, this time Myrie-Williams beating his man and a cut back for Reid, who saw his poked effort saved by the feet of Loach. The half-time message from Owers and his assistant Martin Kuhl had to be for more of the same, but with a goal as the cherry on top of a super display.
Any momentum, however, was lost within a minute of the restart, as Hartlepool defender Michael Ledger received lengthy treatment for a facial injury.
The visitors reacted much better to the disjointed pattern of play and snatched the lead with a frustrating goal for United concede, as the ball was spread wide to the left for Adams to send over an inviting cross to the near post, where Oates was perfectly positioned to nod home.
The Gulls had to quickly adapt to the new reality of being behind in a game they had dominated, as the Hartlepool unit immediately seemed to withdraw a further ten yards in protection of their unlikely lead.
Owers had seen enough by the midway point of the second period, removing Higgins and Callum Evans for the fresh approach of Damon Lathrope and George Dowling, a move that also saw United switch to a flat back four.
The cruel nature of football sadly intervened within seconds, as the new men could only stand and watch a strike from Jonathan Franks take a hefty deflection on its way to flying into the top corner.
United suddenly looked a little forlorn but credit to Reid for lifting the tempo with a cheeky effort toward the near post that needed saving by the impressive Loach. It was, in truth, a rare foray in a tough second period and the Pools very nearly scored a third when Louis Laing headed just wide from a corner.
The final change for United saw Myles Anderson replace Luke Young and Myrie-Williams pushed forward in the hope of something happening in a game drifting away from the Gulls.
Lathrope was denied a consolation when his low drive was superbly palmed clear by Loach and a long break until the Gulls can hopefully get back on the winning trail when Maidstone visit Plainmoor in a fortnight.
United (3-4-1-2): 30 Vincent Dorel; 2 Michee Efete, 26 Josh Gowling (capt), 5 Sean McGinty; 23 Ryan Higgins (4 Damon Lathrope 67), 8 Luke Young (14 Myles Anderson 86), 12 Callum Evans (24 George Dowling 67), 27 Jennison Myrie-Williams; 13 Josh McQuoid; 10 Ruairi Keating, 19 Jamie Reid. Substitutes (not used): 1 Ryan Clarke (GK), 18 Yan Klukowski.
Hartlepool United (4-5-1): 1 Scott Loach; 22 Liam Donnelly, 29 Michael Ledger (19 Kenton Richardson 62), 23 Louis Laing, 3 Blair Adams; 11 Rhys Oates (5 Scott Harrison 87), 4 Nicky Featherstone, 6, Luke George, 14 Michael Woods (8 Jack Munns 89), 17 Nicky Deverdics, 12 Jonathan Franks. Substitutes (not used): 18 Lewis Hawkins, 27 Connor Simpson.
Booked: Donnelly 61
Referee: David Rock
Attendance: 1,987 (159 away).