NEIL Austin’s missed penalty condemned Hartlepool United to bottom spot in League One as they were beaten 2-1 at relegation rivals Bury.
Trailing by two approaching the final half hour, Neale Cooper’s men clawed themselves back into the game thanks to Ryan Noble’s outrageous smash, but they spurned the chance to salvage a point when Austin hit the crossbar seven minutes from time.
It means Pools are now six points from safety and propping up the table approaching the third-way mark of the campaign.
Cooper made two changes for the trip to Gigg Lane with the fit-again Peter Hartley and club captain Ritchie Humphreys coming in for Jonathan Franks and James Poole.
Within 60 seconds the hosts were on the offensive and, when Andy Bishop got the better of Sam Collins in the air, Tom Hopper was sprung clear.
The forward was forced wide and, when his shot was eventually dispatched, it deflected off the heels of the recovering Hartley and Scott Flinders was able to pounce on the goal-bound ball inside the six-yard area.
Jack Baldwin had been pushed into midfield by Cooper and the teenage proved his adaptability with a smart effort on goal in the fourth minute, smashing down the throat of Trevor Carson from 25 yards with the former Sunderland keeper flapping to safety.
Neil Austin was next to test the home keeper and his dipping free-kick was smuggled around the pace of the post by a panicked Carson.
The Shakers threatened with a free-kick of their own just after the half-hour mark but Flinders was equal to Steven Schumacher’s near-post whip and he fisted clear.
The visiting netminder was again called into action when David Worrall scampered clear of Darren Holden and into the penalty area, Flinders, though, was off his line in a flash and spread his frame to block.
But the Pools No.1 was beaten on 38 minutes, Dominic Poleon drifting by Austin before drawing back from the by-line for Hopper who scuffed home from eight yards.
Noble had earlier gone closer with a measured curler which was kept out by Carson but the Sunderland loanee should have beaten his former team-mate just before the break when hooking over from point-blank range.
Pools were slow out of the blocks after the break and duly conceded a second on 55 minutes when Worrall sized an inch-perfect curler into the top corner having cut infield from the right.
But then came Noble’s wonder strike just two minutes later, the 20-year-old unleashing a stupendous 25-yard volley above and beyond a helpless Carson to open his account for the season.
The strike instilled a previously-absent belief in the scorer and he was denied what looked a stonewall penalty when, having weaved clear of three white shirts, he was toppled inside the area on 65 minutes.
That non-award seemed to take the wind out of Pools and only a goal-line clearance from Collins denied David Healy a home third after he had nicked by Flinders on 79 minutes.
But Pools did have their spot-kick when Noble, bustling his way into the danger zone, was tripped by Adam Lockwood.
Austin seized responsibility but his confidently-taken effort cracked the crossbar.
There was still time for substitute Nathan Luscombe to rattle the post with a late blast but Pools now travel to Brentford at the weekend without a win in 12 matches.