Analysis: One moment of magic, two crucial mistakes and three more points dropped for Pools
Turning points in a season don't always have to begin with points.
Pools, in defeat at Aldershot, were chalk and cheese from the Ebbsfleet surrender.
And that in itself is reason to believe they could yet halt their slide to the National League North. Although, there have been so many false dawns with Pools this season, I think it’s safer to err on the side of caution.
Vibrant, full of life and threat, Matthew Bates’ men put in a tireless show and but for a referee’s call would have walked away from the EBB Stadium with a share of the spoils.
A first-half strike from the Shots’ Scott Rendell was cancelled out on the stroke of half-time by Blair Adams, who scored a goal-of-the-season contender before keeper Scott Loach’s mistake allowed Manny Oyeleke to claim all three points for the Shots and extend Pools’ run to one win in 15.
But it was an incident shortly before the winner which proved to be game-defining.
The outstanding Rhys Oates dug out a cross from nothing just before the hour and picked out Conor Newton. But the Geordie’s perfect volley was stopped by the hand of Will Evans. The man in the middle was unmoved but almost everyone else at the ground, to a man, could see he’d got his decision wrong.
It was a penalty, and potentially even a red card.
Pools got neither. And within seconds were made to pay as the Shots netted the winner to continue their charge towards Football League football, while the visitors did nothing to aid their relegation fight bar restore some much-needed pride.
On the selection front, Bates rang the changes - throwing in Liam Donnelly after more than a month out. Lewis Hawkins also got the nod, so too Carl Magnay at left-back with Luke George playing on the right of a back four.
The changes seemed to have an impact in an attacking sense, with Oates’ energy providing Pools with a real outlet. But as has become all too familiar this season, defensively Bates’ men were all at sixes and sevens.
And they were made to pay early doors when slick-passing Aldershot cut them open like a hot knife through butter. Magnay was out of position and the cross came in for Rendell to bundle home.
To add to their woes, George lasted just 25 minutes, forced off with what looked like another hamstring issue.
But, they were far from deterred. You’d expect a side who had managed to win just one in 14 before this game to struggle having gone behind, but Pools did anything but.
Oates was lively, Jake Cassidy solid up top and the midfield full of movement.
George’s departure appeared to be a blow for Pools, but few were complaining when the man who came on for him - Adams - produced a moment of magic to level things up.
The left-back cut in from his wing and from 30 yards, bent in right-footed off the inside of the post. You will struggle to see a better goal than that, at this level all season.
Having not wanted to hear the half-time whistle, Pools carried on where they left off after the break.
And they could so easily have been in front shortly before the hour mark when Newton’s goal-bound volley was stopped with an Evans arm, but nothing was given.
And when you’re struggling it is on moments like this that games are decided. And within moments, on the break, the hosts edged back in front. It’s one Loach will not want to see again.
An Oyeleke shot from the edge of the area squirmed past the usually reliable shot-stopper and in off the upright.
Despite Bates throwing caution to the wind late on, and Pools looking dangerous, they failed to really create any clear-cut openings and had to settle for yet more awayday disappointment. It was scant consolation for their efforts on the night.
Pools have put in lesser shows this season and won. Bates will certainly take heart from what his players produced on the night, but that could easily be said of Gateshead home or away, among other false dawns.
Whatever positives were gained last night will count for nothing come Saturday if Pools prpduce in yet another Victoria Park damp squib.