Eastleigh 3 Hartlepool United 2: Spitfires shoot down Pools as set piece lapses cost Craig Hignett's men dear
Three set piece lapses ensured Hartlepool United left Eastleigh's Silverlake Stadium with nothing to show for a performance full of attacking threat.
Ben Williamson opened the scoring before Mark Kitching levelled. Alex Wynter then restored the home side's lead before Shaun Hobson increased it in the second period. Nicke Kabamba netted late on to set up a tense close but Pools could not get a third which would have seen them remain in the top half of the National League table.
Manager Craig Hignett suffered a blow pre-match when defender Fraser Kerr, set to start alongside returning David Edgar at the heart of Pools' defence, pulled up in the warm up. He was replaced in the starting XI by Kitching, with Myles Anderson reverting to his favoured central role.
Elsewhere Adam Bale missed out with injury, so too Aaron Cunningham, while Luke James was restored to the side with Josh Hawkes dropping out.
As far as halves of football go, Pools' first 45 was near perfect at one end, and a disaster at the other.
Hignett's men created chances galore with Luke Southwood putting up the shutters in the Eastleigh goal, but Pools leaving their own backdoor wide open.
The first goal of the day was a shocker, with Pools caught napping from a set piece. Just 90 seconds had passed when the hosts won a corner and, straight off the training ground, Williamson peeled off, was found unmarked on the edge of the area by former Middlesbrough man Mark Yeates for 1-0.
Pools hit back immediately, though. Luke James tried his luck from distance, saw his shot cannon off the foot of the post and fall straight into the stride of Kitching, who had stayed up after a corner, to slot in his second goal of the season.
Just three minutes later, Liam Noble's effort from the edge of the area was spilled by on loan Reading keeper Southwood and Luke Molyneux nipped in to round the Eastleigh goalie but his effort from a tight angle was cleared off the line by Michael Green.
On top, and in the hunt for goals, Pools again got done at the other end - from another set piece.
This time a corner, again from the left, was nodded back across goal, dummied by one Eastleigh forward and turned in by Wynter for 2-1.
Nicky Featherstone cleared a Josh Hare header off the line before Pools put their foot on the gas and began to dominate.
Molyneux was thwarted by the sprawling Southwood when smartly set away by Liam Noble, then it was Kabamba's turn to be denied as the Eastleigh keeper produced more heroics to tip the on loan Havant striker's effort wide.
Skipper Ryan Donaldson was next to test to the keeper - twice in just two minutes. Firstly, Southwood tipped one effort over the top then from the resulting corner Donaldson again let loose from 30 yards but the ball curled just wide off the outside of his boot.
James saw a shot deflect wide, and Southwood again denied Kabamba as an enthralling half of football came to a thrilling close.
Despite being a goal down Hignett's half-time team talk would almost certainly have been positive, with his side in the ascendancy, creating chances and only an outstanding goalkeeping performance away from being out of sight in this National League encounter.
But, all of that good work was again undone with some sloppy, lax defending from a corner just two minutes after the restart - again!
A well worked corner routine ended with Yeates testing Loach and Hobson turning in the rebound from a crowded area.
Having been the better side, creating the lion's share of chances, Pools found themselves two goals down and at risk of capitulating.
An error from Anderson allowed Williamson a clear run at goal but anything Southwood can do, Southwell lad Loach can better - the Pools keeper reacting quickly to narrow the angle and get a vital touch on the Eastleigh man's effort, diverting it on to the post.
Under Hignett, as well as looking a team transformed in the final third, Pools don't seem to know when they're beaten. They again made the close interesting in this encounter when Noble's perfectly weighted cross floated on to the head of Kabamba, who'd peeled off his marker at the back post, and looped in to the far corner, leaving the impressive Southwood helpless.
Andrew Boyce had a goal ruled out for handball before Kabamba was presented with the chance to get Pools level with nine minutes remaining. A deep ball into the area was headed back across goal by the advanced Kitching, but with the goal at his mercy the striker could only get a stud on the ball and was unable to divert goalwards.
And with that, the game petered out as Pools suffered their third loss of Hignett's second permanent tenure.
The result saw Pools drop two places in the National League table. Pools are now 13th, with five games left of the campaign.