Birthday boy Rhys Oates’ joy shortlived as Hartlepool United hang on for draw

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Birthday boy Rhys Oates was denied the perfect present thanks to a stubborn fightback by Salford City.

The pacy forward, who turned 21 yesterday, got Hartlepool United off to the perfect start at Moor Lane against the non-league outfit.

Rhys Oates.

Rhys Oates.

Cutting inside from the left-wing, the rapid ex-Barnsley youth won a penalty after being brought down by Andy Dawson.

And confident Oates stepped up to smash home the opening goal live on BBC2 after just eight minutes.

But his landmark birthday ultimately ended in disappointment after a dogged Salford City side pegged them back to force a replay at Victoria Park a week on Tuesday.

Oates admits Ronnie Moore’s side didn’t – ultimately – do enough to earn the right to progress into the third round hat.

“It was a dream start for me personally,” Oates told SportMail.

“To score the opener on my birthday was brilliant.

“The perfect present would have been a win, that would have really topped it off but we couldn’t manage it.

“We should have gone on to win the game having taken an early lead, and we ended up being quite lucky to remain in the competition, to be honest.”

Oates, a summer signing on a free, produced a man of the match performance, easily the pick of a poor Pools bunch.

First half, in particular, he tormented the Salford defence.

But Pools failed to show as much attacking intent the longer the half wore on and eventually Steve O’Halloran equalised in the 23rd minute.

Oates enjoyed his role in the side but admitted overall it was a fair result.

He added: “I was given a free role, told to start out wide but if I got the chance to come inside.

“I did that to win the penalty, by cutting inside.

“Their centre backs weren’t the quickest, we wanted to use my pace and get in behind them and we did that.

“We were lucky to get the draw in the end though, it was a fair result and hopefully we can get a result at our place and progress.”

The quality on show between League Two Pools and Evo-Stik Northern Premier Division side Salford was poor, with little to capture the imagination of the viewing public.

Rakish Bingham and Scott Fenwick were both guilty of missing glorious openings in the second half, Bingham heading over and Fenwick getting all mixed up with his effort.

Salford had chances to win it too and Oates is hoping Pools will fare better on home soil in the replay.

“We needed to take our chances,” added Oates.

“We were unlucky with some of the efforts but you could also argue we were quite lucky too as we didn’t play as we should have played.

“The pitch didn’t help.

“But at our place on a better pitch we should be able to get the ball down and play a lot more.

“The pitch was really heavy, my legs were struggling afterwards.

“It was a hard game with a lot of tackles.

“We knew we were going to come here and how they would play, we had seen the Notts County match in the first round, you have to match them up.

“We feel like we should have played better than what we did, so maybe we didn’t enjoy it as much.

“There was a big sense of disappointment afterwards.

“But we are confident we will do better at our place.”

The rise of Salford City has captured the imagination of the nation, part-owned by the so-called ‘Class of 92’, they have the financial backing to continue rising up the non-league ladder.

Paul Scholes was at the game, he part-owns the club along with former Manchester United legends Gary and Phil Neville, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt.

Oates was impressed with their performance.

“They are a very fit, strong side, who work hard,” he added.

“They played a lot of long balls though, so let’s see how they play at our place.”