Ronnie Moore said he could not have asked any more of his players against Oxford United - apart from a goal.
Hartlepool United played some of their best football of the season, especially in the first half, against the in-form U's.
Jake Gray hit the away bar in the first half with fellow loan man Mikael Mandron failing when clean through in the second half.
And Oxford went to the top of League Two thanks to a fine finish from sub Danny Hylton following a counter-attack by winger Alex MacDonald.
“First-half was as good as good as it’s been since I’ve been here," said Moore. "We moved it out at the back, played it quickly and all that was missing was a goal.
“We had half-chances and another day one goes in, but against top of the League then one lapse and it costs you."
Moore was unhappy with the Oxford winner as MacDonald was allowed to romp downfield before crossing for Hylton.
“It comes from our corner, too easily, and they put the winger down the line," said the manager.
"It's a case where you don’t let him inside and cross and we've let him put it where he wants to and Hylton isn’t going to miss from there.
"I think I'd have scored that."
Hylton's poacher's finish contrasted with Mandron's attempt at the other end on 53 minutes when he was clean through on goal.
Liechenstein international Ben Buchel, to his credit, came out well, the keeper saving with his feet, but the Sunderland forward should have converted his chance.
“At 0-0 we had the most important chance," said Moore. "It was a fantastic opportunity and Mandron should have scored.
“In that position, a natural scorer – like Hylton for them – scores and it’s a game-changer.
“I’m not going to criticise him, it’s his credit to get in that position, but you have to finish it."