IF Hartlepool United are to stay up this season, then, like the rest of the season, they are going to do it the hard way.
York City away, backed by more than 2,000 travelling supporters, was a BIG opportunity to pull away from the bottom two.
But it was a big opportunity missed.
York, although enjoying a revival of their own at exactly the right time, had only won three times on home soil before Pools came calling.
And when Dave Winfield was given a straight red card for a two-footed lunge on Brad Walker, it appeared it was going to be Ronnie Moore’s day.
Instead, the strong away following had to endure a deeply frustrating second-half at a sun-kissed yet blustery Bootham Crescent.
After going down to 10 men, York would have been happy with a point, they sat back and invited Pools on to them, surrendering the middle third of the pitch.
Yet Pools seemed panic-stricken and nervous, a side of their character not seen for a good few weeks.
The ball was passed sideways so much it resembled a crab on Seaton Carew beach.
There was no tempo to their play, no killer pass, no width and a real lack of imagination and ideas when they approached the York penalty area.
They had plenty of ‘attempts’, 21 in total. But the vast majority were sent wide, high over the bar or into the hands of Michael Ingham.
Pools only registered six shots on target and at times the players seemed scared to shoot.
But with just four games left of the Sky Bet League Two season to go, now is not the time to lose your nerve.
Just one point is keeping Pools out of the bottom two. They have been lucky in recent weeks that Tranmere Rovers and Cheltenham Town seem unable to buy a win.
As a result, Pools’ destiny remains in their own hands.
But they cannot keep relying on other teams to falter, they must go for the kill, starting with Accrington Stanley at home tomorrow night.
It was a must win game before, but the pressure has really cranked up a few more notches after the defeat to the Minstermen.
Ahead of the game, Moore had spoken about the fear factor being banished from the club in recent weeks.
But it was back with a vengeance against Russ Wilcox’s side.
And they were made to pay.
What made it even worse for the players, management and travelling support was that York are a poor side.
In fairness, they defended well when they had to, but the game was there for the taking for Pools yet they failed to find a way through.
While Moore’s side didn’t do enough to win the game, they certainly didn’t deserve to lose it either.
Defeat was cruel, given Luke Summerfield’s fortunate 67th minute winner was a deflected strike that left Scott Flinders – who had nothing else to do all half – flat-footed.
The possession stats, attempts on goal and corners won will show Pools dominated proceedings but none of that matters if you do nothing with it.
If they are to pull away from danger, they need to up the tempo, be more decisive going forward and find their goalscoring boots.
With just 33 scored all season, only Yeovil Town (32) have scored less in the whole of the Football League.
And two 1-0 defeats in the space of a week has also seen a five point gap open up between third-bottom Pools and the sides above them, although Mansfield Town are doing their best to join the relegation party.
It is tight, it is tense and it is going down to the wire.
Fate seemed to be smiling on Pools going into the game too given on-loan Preston North End striker Jordan Hugill was given the all clear to play after concerns over his eye.
He had been a major doubt but started up front alongside Jonathan Franks as Moore stuck with his favoured 3-5-2 formation.
With both sides scrapping for their lives, it was a combative start.
Flinders easily saved from Keith Lowe’s scooped effort early on before Scott Harrison saw his low shot cleared off the line by Winfield 11 minutes in.
Brad Walker and Franks both went close, their efforts going inches wide, while up the other end Flinders saved well from Shaq Coulthirst and Michael Coulson blasted over from close range.
The game burst into life before half-time as Winfield – the defender who broke Michael Woods’ leg while on loan at Wimbledon – was given a straight red for a two-footed lunge on Walker
Referee Keith Stroud didn’t hesitate, Winfield leaving the field to an earful from Sam Collins.
If anything, the red card worked against Pools as York closed ranks, happy to defend.
Pools dominated proceedings during the second-half but failed to take advantage.
Then came the sucker-punch.
Against the run of play, Coulthirst saw his shot blocked, the ball fell to Summerfield who hit a 30-yard effort that took a massive deflection off David Mirfin on its way in.
A real sickener and there was no way back.
Hugill and Aaron Tshibola – who struggled throughout – all wasted good openings while Franks saw a well-struck effort wonderfully tipped over by Ingham.
Moore threw Scott Fenwick on as a last throw of the dice but it was too little too late and Pools had ran out of ideas as the clock ran out on them.
Accrington are up next and another long night for fans .
in the battle against the drop.