IT was a depressing case of unlucky number 13 for Hartlepool United last night.
Ahead of the Sky Bet League Two match against Wimbledon, Colin Cooper’s side had won all 12 matches that they had taken the lead in this season – including nine in the league and three in cup competitions.
No other team in the Football League had a better record this year going into the match at the bizarrely-named Cherry Red Records Stadium.
And when Luke James gave Pools a well-deserved 1-0 lead two minutes before half-time, it looked for all the world, that they would make it victory number 13 last night.
Yet, somehow, Cooper’s side came away with nothing, despite dominating the possession and goalscoring chances for well over an hour.
But an inability to find the second goal ultimately proved Pools’ downfall as two second-half goals in the space of 120 seconds ended in a gut-wrenching 2-1 defeat.
It made the 279-mile mid-week trip back to the North East a very sorry one for the magnificent 239 away supporters – a fantastic effort for a Tuesday night.
This defeat left a bitter taste in the mouth and the Pools players and management team left the field looking dejected and slightly bemused after not getting at least a draw.
There are two reasons as to why it happened, firstly, not taking their chances when they were 1-0 up and secondly poor defending – including another costly mistake from Scott Flinders which led to the Dons equaliser.
It was frustrating for the players and fans and those in the director’s box, which included club chairman Ken Hodcroft, Jack Barmby’s dad Nicky and Hartlepool-born presenter of Soccer Saturday, Jeff Stelling.
You could just envisage Chris Kamara’s response to hearing Pools had managed to lose the match – “Unbelievable Jeff”.
But sadly, it was all too believable and the players must now look to bounce straight back when second-placed Scunthorpe United visit the Vic on Saturday.
Last night’s defeat leaves Pools 14th on 34 points, while Neil Ardley’s Wimbledon climb two places to ninth.
It was a match in which Pools should have been well out of sight, with Brad Walker, Andy Monkhouse and Marlon Harewood all having good chances to extend the lead before the Dons woke from their slumber.
Harewood in particular found himself with an opening in front of goal after doing well to shake-off two defenders but then blasted his effort too high, clipping the bar as it sailed into the stand.
Wimbledon couldn’t cope with what Cooper’s team were throwing at them and Ardley admitted afterwards they rode their luck at times.
But in the end all that matters is the final result and Cooper will be hoping his side will learn from this dispiriting defeat.
A late booking for Jack Baldwin for a late foul on the half-way line also meant he picked up his 10th booking of the season and with it a two-match suspension.
Not what Cooper needed with defenders Michael Duckworth [double hernia] and Jordan Richards [suspended] already missing for the visit of Scunthorpe.
The Pools manager had named an unchanged starting XI, with the team again lining up in a diamond formation.
Many fans were surprised on-loan Manchester United forward Barmby didn’t start but, in fairness, Pools didn’t miss him for the opening hour or so.
For they really did dominate the match, which started at a fast pace.
Within the opening five minutes Walker had twice tested Dons keeper Ross Worner, the first, a side-footed effort from the edge of the area was well held but the 17-year-old’s second effort from 30-yards was acrobatically tipped over the bar.
Harry Pell then tested Flinders from distance but he was equal to it on both occasions, although he almost fumbled the second attempt on what was a heavy pitch.
On-loan Middlesbrough defender Christian Burgess should have hit the target in the 25th minute but was unable to connect with a deep Simon Walton free-kick.
Further efforts from Walker and Monkhouse kept the home keeper on his toes but Pools couldn’t find the breakthrough.
Walton was impressive in the opening stages and along with man of the match Luke Williams helped dictate the play.
Williams was again impressive, using the ball well in tight pockets of space.
Indeed, the opening goal came after good work from the on-loan Middlesbrough forward on 43 minutes.
Williams’ deep cross from the right-hand flank found Monkhouse and his knock-down was eventually bundled home from a yard out by James, his 12th of the season and second in four days.
From then on, it looked very much like only one side was going to win the game.
While, the Dons had created a couple of chances, there was nothing to worry Flinders and Co too much as Pools went into the break looking comfortable with a well-deserved 1-0 lead.
And then it all went wrong.
Ardley made two half-time changes, with the disappointing Charlie Sheringham and Jack Midson hooked in favour of Danny Hylton and former Pools loanee Charlie Wyke.
Wyke made an instant impact, within five seconds of the restart he had forced Flinders into a smart double-handed save. The warning signs were there.
But Pools still had chances to double their lead. Harewood went closest, his powerful 20-yard drive clipping the bar, while Monkhouse and Walker again had further attempts.
But then came the sucker-punch and two goals in the space of two minutes for Wimbledon, who showed far more intent and purpose second-half.
In the 74th minute, Will Antwi equalised after taking advantage of Flinders completely missing a long range Sammy Moore free-kick to head the ball home from close range.
Then two minutes later, sub Hylton made it two after getting the best of Baldwin on the edge of the penalty area to turn, and shoot low past Flinders into the keeper’s right-hand corner of the net.
It left Pools shell-shocked and despite attempts to get back into the game, they never recovered.
A late James penalty appeal was waved away as Pools had to come to terms with defeat.
The players could hardly believe it and a “massively disappointed” Cooper will be keen to make sure it doesn’t happen again.