BEFORE the match Ronnie Moore called on his Hartlepool United side to show some fight against a physical Mansfield Town.
What he probably wasn’t expecting was to see his side end the Boxing Day fixture with just nine men on the field.
Thankfully the red cards shown to Marlon Harewood in the 87th minute and Michael Woods three minutes later didn’t cause Moore’s side to lose what could be a valuable point.
After an abysmal first-half showing – which rightly had Moore raging – Pools were far more of a threat in the second half and in the end got what they deserved.
They could have even sneaked it late on had Neil Austin not blazed over the bar with the goal gaping.
Not only did Pools look a goal threat second-half, they also for once, showed a bit of fight, character and grit.
Those three characteristics have not been seen enough this season and is a key reason why Pools are bottom of the Football League.
This is a match Pools would almost certainly have lost a little over a fortnight ago.
But after a half-time ‘Ronnie Rocket’ they came out and showed the travelling 419 Pools supporters that they will at least battle for their Football League survival.
The festive period has been a steady one so far and while they are still seven points adrift after the 22nd league match of the campaign there is, at least, a platform to build on after draws against Oxford United and Mansfield.
That is key, especially ahead of the January transfer window opening.
Three points at home to Morecambe tomorrow and the belief will be firmly there that survival can be achieved this season though that still remains a huge ask.
Especially given both Carlisle United and York City picked up three points.
All Pools can do is focus on their own matches and hope over the course of the coming months the teams around them drop enough points.
That task started badly at Mansfield though – with the home side taking the lead after just 10 minutes.
Pools had been preparing for an assault on their box but it was a slick move on the floor that left them floundering.
Dangerman Junior Brown picked the ball up 25-yards from goal, cut inside and played a one-two with Vadaine Oliver before he was then given too much time and space to roll it under Scott Flinders.
Pools felt rightly aggrieved as just moments before they had a strong penalty appeal turned down.
Michael Duckworth, whose returnwas the only change to the side that drew with Oxford, appeared to be clipped as he fired a shot wide of the post.
But referee Scott Mathieson wasn’t interested and Brown made them pay with the opening goal moments later.
Pools were dreadful in the first half, both Dan Jones and Joe Ironside wasted headers while the build-up play consisted of pumping forward long, straight balls.
Moore was fuming as his side failed to once test Dimitar Evtimov in the Stags goal.
At the other end the defence was kept busy with Mansfield’s physical approach working well towards burly frontman Matt Rhead.
He had a goalbound header cleared off the line by Darren Holden from a corner kick just moments before the half-time whistle.
Mansfield were fully in command at that stage and while it was only 1-0 at the interval, Pools’ fate looked bleak on a freezing cold day.
The second-half was an altogether different story.
Pools came firing out of the blocks and started with far greater intent.
Woods combined well with Harewood and Ironside before shooting low past the post and that gave the travelling supporters a visible boost.
Then, in the 51st minute Pools scored a deserved equaliser.
Harewood – almost in slow motion – held the ball up before laying it off to Duckworth who bounced the ball into the turf and off a defender’s back into the net.
Cue mad celebrations in the away end.
Pools, who have been on the receiving end of a fair chunk of bad luck this season, then had Lady Luck shining down on them as Mansfield were denied what looked a legitimate goal to take the lead.
Rhead’s header down was fumbled by Flinders, the ball popped up to Duckworth who made a hash of clearing it before Holden eventually lashed it away.
At one stage the ball looked to have clearly crossed the line but it wasn’t given.
Brown then flashed the ball across the face of Flinders’ goal as the atmosphere and standard of play cranked up.
Mathieson then produced his first red card of the match.
In the 72nd minute Ryan Tafazolli was shown his second yellow for a clear tug back on Ironside’s shirt.
Mathieson had no doubt as he produced the red as the momentum swung Pools’ way.
A dramatic finale ensued as Harewood received his marching orders in the 87th minute for what looked an innocuous coming together between him and Stags captain Jamie McGuire.
Harewood landed on top of him after a tussle and while there was pushing and shoving there didn’t appear to be any punches thrown.
Yet, on advice from the linesman, Mathieson gave the experienced striker his marching orders.
Mansfield were now on the front foot and Flinders had to be alert to prevent both sub Rakish Bingham and Oliver from snatching the victory.
Then came a moment of madness from Woods.
In the 90th minute he stupidly wrestled for the ball when the free-kick had already been given against him. Mathieson rightly showed Woods his second yellow and Woods will now sit out the crucial visit of Morecambe.
In the end Pools held firm and Moore can take positives from the vastly-improved second-half display.
He will now have to patch his side together as Pools look to turn draws into wins.