OUT of luck, out of touch and out of steam.
Several of Colin Cooper’s side were running on empty after recording back-to-back home defeats – thanks to Jermaine McGlashan’s 74th minute strike – and their third straight loss.
Recent defeats to Oxford United, a battering at home to Mansfield and the loss to Cheltenham have been bitterly disappointing and put to bed any final hope of a top seven finish.
Pools are now 13th, and nobody is talking about the play-offs anymore – 10 points adrift with just six games to go.
Instead, Cooper has challenged his side to finish eighth or ninth and to build some momentum into the close season, when future contracts will of course be decided.
He means it as well, Nialle Rodney has already been axed.
So, for the rest, the next six weeks is their chance to shine if they are to remain part of what Cooper is hoping to achieve at the Sky Bet League Two club.
Sadly, the visit of Mark Yates’ Cheltenham looked a match too far for some, Brad Walker, so impressive this season started well enough but faded badly.
He is of course just 17 and will hopefully be a huge player for Pools for sometime to come but he conceded possession far too easily on Saturday and the demanding League Two campaign seems to be catching up on him.
Another to struggle was Jack Barmby.
While he created chances in the first half, he needs to work harder when he doesn’t have the ball and be sharper and quicker when he does.
He was subbed after less than an hour.
Pools – missing experienced striker Marlon Harewood with an ankle knock – looked like they had gone back to earlier in the season when they went through a spell of struggling to score.
Harewood’s signing reignited 15-goal top scorer Luke James’ season then but without him on Saturday, he looked isolated.
It was a flat performance at The Vic, lacking any intensity, fluidity or tempo - with the front five in particular struggling to get any flow or rhythm to their passing, wasting possession on several occasions.
Jack Compton did come out with some credit, and when his confidence his up, he looks like a dangerous player - setting up both Jonathan Franks and James Poole.
At the moment Pools are currently sitting comfortably in mid-table, 10 points off the play-offs and nine off the drop zone, which is where inconsistent teams tend to find themselves.
But Pools need a win urgently.
Firstly to get to 52 points just to ease supporter’s nerves and secondly to launch some momentum into the final half-dozen fixtures.
It would be a great shame if all the hard work Cooper’s young side have put in this season faded at the last hurdle.
As well as League Two being a test of physical endurance and ability, it is also a test of character and Cooper has challenged some of them to show him they want to remain.
The gaffer had made two changes from the 4-2 Mansfield defeat, Simon Walton returning from a one-game suspension and Franks in for Harewood and dropped Jordan Richards.
There was no place for either of the new Sunderland loan signings, Scott Harrison and Connor Oliver.
Cooper explained there was an agreement in place the pair would play for Sunderland’s development side on the Friday and join up with Pools today.
Michael Duckworth was back in defence and Walker back wide right, and the Billingham-born teen started well enough, keeping it nice and simple.
Indeed, Pools started far better than they had ended Tuesday night and the first real chance fell to Walker.
After good work from Compton, the ball eventually fell to the 17-year-old but goalkeeper Scott Brown got down well to save his shot.
Barmby forced Brown into three saves, his best was 23 minutes in, a low crisp shot from the edge of the area but the keeper dived to his left and palmed the ball away.
The intensity soon evaporated from Pools’ play though and Cheltenham began to cause problems.
Scott Flinders saved a long-range Mitch Brundle effort on the half hour mark, before Yates’ side produced the best move of the match.
Sam Deering chipped the ball to the onrushing McGlashan but Flinders was alert to quash the danger.
The game finally threatened to spring into life three minutes into the second-half, Cheltenham’s Billy Daniels hitting the post with a curling effort from outside the penalty area.
Three minutes later and James had his own goalden chance to score.
Darren Holden’s rebounded shot came to the 19-year-old but his close range effort was high over the bar - it really wasn’t his day.
The largely ineffective Barmby was then hooked in favour of Poole for the last half hour.
Town End appeals for a David Noble handball inside the penalty area were dismissed before Compton produced one of the misses of the season in the 63rd minute.
Franks floated a ball to Compton, all alone from six-yards, only to see his header go agonisingly wide.
It looked easier to score and it would prove costly.
Franks had a further well-struck shot blocked before Cheltenham delivered their 74th minute sucker punch.
McGlashan sneaked in at the far post to slide in a Sido Jombati deep cross past Flinders.
Collins had initially failed to clear the ball properly but Holden seemed to turn his back on the cross back in and McGlashan took full advantage.
It always seemed one goal would be enough and despite a late Pools rally, so it proved.
Young midfielders Lewis Hawkins and Greg Rutherford were thrown on and Pools did go close to scoring.
But twice James managed to get in the way of goalbound shots.
First he deflected Poole’s effort wide before James’ face then got in the way of a Burgess shot from close range.
It just summed up Pools’ day really.
The hope is it doesn’t sum up the season and that Pools can finish strongly, as Cooper looks to build for next season’s assault on League Two.
Pools (4-4-2): Flinders, Duckworth, Collins, Burgess, Holden, Walton, Walker (Hawkins, 82), Compton, Barmby (Poole, 58), Franks (Rutherford, 84), James.
Subs Not Used: Rafferty, Richards, Jones, Rowbotham.
Cheltenham Town (4-4-2): S Brown, T Brown, Deering, Harrison (Gornell, 90), McGlashan, Richards, Jombati, Noble (Taylor, 87), Ihiekwe, Brundle, Daniels.
Subs Not Used: Cureton, Roberts, Kotwica, Vincent, Braham-Barrett.
Goal: McGlashan, 74
Referee: Andy Haines (Tyne & Wear)
Attendance: 3,328 (104 Cheltenham)
Scott Flinders: 6. Didn’t have to do anything special. Made a couple of routine saves.
Michael Duckworth: 6. Back in his familiar right-back berth, couple of crunching tackles first half. Likes running from deep.
Sam Collins: 7. MOM. Stand-out performer, played with a suspected fractured cheekbone but couldn’t tell. Brave and competitive.
Christian Burgess: 7. Performed admirably alongside Collins at the back, the pair looked far better than against Mansfield Town.
Darren Holden: 6. Failed to clear for their winning goal. Linked up well with Jack Compton down the wing.
Simon Walton: 6. Grew in frustration as game wore on, couple of stray passes when in possession. Look more solid with him in team though.
Brad Walker: 5. Disappointing afternoon for Walker. Looked composed in opening 10 minutes but faded badly. Tired performance and lost possession easily.
Jack Compton: 7. Enjoyed some positive spells in the game and looked dangerous. Plenty of crosses in but final ball, at times, could have been better. Missed a sitter.
Jack Barmby: 5. Had three efforts at goal in first half but was subbed after 58 minutes. Needs to be sharper in possession and work harder without ball.
Jonathan Franks: 6. Put in his usual tireless shift but there wasn’t an end product. Did almost score but his well-struck attempt was blocked.
Luke James: 6. Looked isolated up front, having to come back deep for ball. Blocked goalbound shots from Burgess and Poole as well. Missed Harewood.
James Poole: 6. Played a third of the match, saw a goalbound effort deflected wide by James. Has a few players ahead of him at the moment.
Lewis Hawkins: 6. Positive performance and managed to get a couple of crosses in.
Greg Rutherford: 6. Played in an advanced role, just behind James but couldn’t find the breakthrough.
Steven Liddell @slidds
@HPoolMail very similar to early season, James isolated,to many players with zero end product.At least Northampton got beat! #terracetweets
Scott Elliott @ScottyE09
@HPoolMail Goes to show how much of a difference Harewood makes. #terracetweets
Mark Carroll @MARKCARROLL3
@HPoolMail We where wasteful in possesion and when chances came in 2nd half. James didnt receive enough support up front. We need points asap
Just Dave @Hooksy_1
@MARKCARROLL3 @HPoolMail whatever happens not mate it’s too little too late. Had enough chances today - a little unlucky but Not clinical
Vicki Thompson @poolievixen
@HPoolMail like Cheryl Coles hair - dull, limp, lifeless... It was flat at The Vic today #terracetweets