FORGET what any football coach has previously told you, “always play to the second whistle” is the new lesson to be learned from this controversial defeat.
For, when referee David Coote half-heartedly puffed on his pea just a split-second before Anthony Pilkington smashed the ball into the back of the net, it was assumed play was to be brought back following Scott Arfield’s elevated boot on the brow of Steve Haslam.
The Pools players had stopped – even the scorer appeared somewhat reluctant in his lofting of celebratory arms.
But the whistler quickly withdrew his sounding device and peered towards his assistant, as if in hope of a flagged get-out having himself become confused amid the melee which led to the net-bulging strike.
No such reprieve was forthcoming, however, and the visitors were awarded what ultimately proved to be the winning strike after just 11 minutes.
Mr Coote’s evening did not get much better – be it the brandishing of nine yellow cards, awarding drop-balls instead of free-kicks and vice-versa, or his premature decision to blow for time, despite a lengthy stoppage inside the six added minutes.
Pools midfielder Leon McSweeney suggested afterwards that the man in black had merely wanted the game over and done with, such was his fragile grip of heated affairs.
Mick Wadsworth, on the other hand, was somewhat more diplomatic – instead pointing to the positives he was happy to take from the game and continuing to offer hope of a late-season playoff push.
And why not? For, despite the refereeing frustration, Pools did at least limit their free-scoring opponents to just a handful of half chances and had decent enough openings themselves to rightly talk of deserving a draw.
The Terriers, don’t forget, are a richly-assembled pack, in League One currency anyway, and there is mounting pressure on boss Lee Clark to ensure the club escape the third tier for the first time in 10 years.
But you have to say, mysterious opener aside, there was very little to separate the teams over 90 minutes.
Although, had Wadsworth not acted to stem the visitors’ attacking tide in the wake of that early goal, such rosy reflection might not have been possible.
It’s a brave move to sacrifice a forward when trailing at home, which happened very early on last night when Andy Monkhouse, he of match-winning exploits at Exeter City at the weekend, was shunted back into midfield to help subdue scorer Pilkington’s unrelenting threat.
But the reshuffle worked and Pools, albeit with the aid of Scott Flinders’ gloves to keep out Gary Roberts’ close-range effort, soldiered through to half-time without further concession.
The home troops were rallied and re-organised during the interval and, for a 15-minute spell around the hour mark, set up camp in enemy territory.
First, Evan Horwood’s wicked free-kick swept untouched through limbs inside the area before being fortunately fumbled around the post by Ian Bennett.
Monkhouse then aimed to repeat his Exeter scoring feat but drilled narrowly wide, Gary Liddle went close with a volley, while Antony Sweeney saw Peter Clarke block his net-bound smash just yards from goal.
That the uprising lasted a little more than quarter of an hour probably had something to do with the 700-mile-round weekend jaunt to Devon, as well as the fact this was Pools’ sixth game in just two-and-a-half weeks.
For, as the game wore on, Pools, for all their valiant effort, were repeatedly repelled by the deeply entrenched Town rearguard.
Not even the introduction of Colin Larkin’s nuisance factor, so normally a potential game-changer, could help locate a leveller.
Larkin, it must be said, was somewhat unlucky at again having to revert to bench duty – such was his impact at St James’ Park on Saturday.
And, especially at times during the first half, the Irishman’s willingness to work the channels and chase lost causes was sorely missed, if only for its relief value.
Loanee Ryan Donaldson was preferred in attack, he himself unfortunate to miss out at Exeter, but the teenager quickly found himself isolated when sidekick Monkhouse was assigned a more defensive posting.
Like the rest of his temporary team-mates, Donaldson was a lot better after the break but the young forward still needs to add goals if he is to avoid hopping between starts and second-half cameos.
Goals, though, have been in short supply at Victoria Park since last month’s 2-1 win over Charlton.
Indeed, it’s now nearly five hours without one on home soil, although Donaldson wrongly had an effort chalked off during the 1-0 defeat against MK Dons.
It’s Brentford next up, again at The Vic, on Saturday, where Pools can only hope for an improved standard of refereeing.
And, while their mid-table standing might lead to suggestion of a cruise towards the finish line, Wadsworth, unlike some, is no mood to blow the whistle on their season just yet.