Hartlepool cut out sloppy errors at one end – but poor finishing costs them

Mark Kitching wins the ball.
Mark Kitching wins the ball.

Be clinical. Keep it tight.

Matthew Bates called for his players to take their chances at Braintree last night and make sure they cut out the sloppy errors at the back.

Niko Muir celebrates scoring with Liam Noble.

Niko Muir celebrates scoring with Liam Noble.

Well, they certainly got one half of the bargain spot on – putting in a defensive rearguard action worthy of winning any match in the second 45 minutes at Cressing Road.

But a late, sickening strike meant they had nothing to show for a tremendous night’s efforts down south, in which their finishing, again, was found wanting.

As far as performances go for Bates, this was close to perfect. For 45 minutes anyway.

Slick, incisive Pools cut the hosts open at will.

But chances went begging and with that, Pools went on the retreat as the night drew in.

It looked as if they’d done enough until a last-gasp Mohamed Bettamer strike robbed Hartlepool of their first National League win of the season.

Niko Muir’s second goal of the season looked to have won it for Pools but two minutes into four added on, Bettamer popped up to crack home for a share of the spoils.

On the selection front, Bates made four changes from the side beaten by Edbbsfleet United last weekend. In came Myles Anderson for his debut while Michael Woods was given his first run out of the campaign.

Nicky Featherstone and Ryan Donaldson were also recalled while out dropped injured skipper Andrew Davies, Kenton Richardson, Jake Cassidy and Paddy McLaughlin.

And a great start saw skipper for the day Liam Noble presented with a golden the chance from 12 yards to put Pools in front after Luke James was felled in the area.

Having struck his penalty well enough towards the keeper’s right, however, the Pools captain saw his kick beaten away by Braintree goalkeeper Ben Lillip with a fantastic stop.

Dominant in the early exchanges, Pools looked sharper up top with Muir and Luke James running in behind.

Playing in a more advanced role Muir was the catalyst to Pools’ opener, as well as producing the end product.

The striker played a perfectly weighted ball on to Ryan Donaldson’s chest on the right edge of the area. The wing-back’s pass to the overlapping Noble looked too strong but the midfielder dug out a cross to Mark Kitching at the back post. His nod down found Muir, the man in the right place at the right time, who tucked in expertly from close range.

It was no less than Pools deserved.

Rampant in an attacking sense, Kitching, at times, was almost playing as a third striker, so advanced were Pools with the ball.

He had a change 10 minutes before the break to make it 2-0 and being brutally honest he’ll be kicking himself that he didn’t open his Pools account.

Muir dug out a cross from the right again and the left wing-back was arriving at the back post but he could not guide past the sprawling Killip.

How Pools didn’t manage to extend their lead before the break would surely be the only frustrating factor for Bates, of what was an otherwise perfect attacking display in the first 45.

Just before the break Woods reacted sharpest to a wayward pass in the Braintree backline and burst through on goal but again the home keeper was on hand to deny as last season’s top scorer tried to lift over his onrushing frame.

After a whirlwind opening, it was a more subdued start to the second 45 with Pools happy to hang on to what they have.

Substitute Irnti Rapai went close for Town as they put the foot on the pedal in the second half, pinning Pools back early doors, but at the other end the chances continued to flow as Peter Kioso went close with a header from a corner.

As time ticked way things got a bit nervy for Pools. Given the dominance in the first half, it seemed a little unnecessary.

Luke Allen’s volley had Scott Loach beaten all ends up, but luckily for Pools it beat the far post, too.

And that was the way it stayed as Pools looked to have won it. But, as happened this time last week, they threw it away at the death as Bettamer drilled in.

This really was two points thrown away... Again.