A SPIRITED Hartlepool United performance was to end empty-handed as Sheffield United stole maximum points at the death.
Neale Cooper had seen Steve Howard equalise Dave Kitson’s first-half opener with 13 minutes remaining and Pools were on course for a well-deserved draw.
But forward Paul Gallagher condemned the hosts to defeat just one minute from time as Cooper’s side remained second from bottom in League One.
The Scot had made three changes for the visit of the Blades, skipper Sam Collins, Craig Lynch and Evan Horwood all dropped, Andy Monkhouse, James Poole and Darren Holden their replacements.
After a cagey start Kitson was first to measure a shot on goal on six minutes but he drew his 20-yard effort wide of Scott Flinders’ target.
Hartley was fortunate to avoid yellow when the greasy surface took his slide through the back of Paul Gallagher on halfway, but Blades centre-back Harry Maguire had no such luck when he upended Tony Sweeney on the left-hand touchline.
From that free-kick, delivered by Holden, the ball found its way into the path of Sweeney, unmarked and just five yards from goal, but he somehow contrived to square wide with just Mark Howard to beat.
Howard, though, was called into action on 26 minutes when Poole took aim from just outside the area, his left-foot rasper stinging the palms of the netminder with Maguire steering the rebound back to his keeper.
Within 60 seconds the visitors were ahead.
Former Middlesbrough full-back Tony McMahon served up a sumptuous centre from the right and Kitson simply had to guide on goal from six yards with his firm header leaving Scott Flinders no chance.
Rather than collapse, Pools went in search of parity and Sweeney tried his luck with two close-range headers, the first gathered by Howard and the second cannoning off the crossbar from a Jon Franks corner.
The half ended with the hosts in the ascendancy and that is how the second begun, Steve Howard teeing up Poole for a low blast from 14 yards but it skidded wide.
The same player tested Howard on 70 minutes but his 20-yard drive was straight down the throat of the visiting custodian.
But Howard was beaten 13 minutes from time, and it was his namesake who did the damage.
Pools forward Howard blasted a low cross through the goalmouth with Franks retrieving on the right wing.
He dug out a cross to the far post where Howard was waiting to power home from six yards.
But that goal jolted the Yorkshiremen into life and, when Pools failed to clear a cross from the right flank, Gallagher was lurking 12 yards out to tuck into the bottom corner and steal the points for Danny Wilson’s men.