Roy Kelly’s big-match analysis: Hartlepool United 1 Sutton United 1

Hartlepool United players celebrate after Rhys Oates put them into a 1-0 lead.
Hartlepool United players celebrate after Rhys Oates put them into a 1-0 lead.

One point gained or two points dropped? We’ll know more on Saturday night.

Hartlepool United were made to sample that bitter taste they had inflicted on Barrow and Solihull Moors – the late goal.

Just a couple of games on from those dramatic smash and grabs in the National League, Pools were on the receiving end of a late, late, late Sutton United equaliser.

Nine added minutes had elapsed when U’s sub Tommy Wright smashed his shot high into Scott Loach’s net to send 93 away fans into raptures in the Rink End and break blue and white hearts.

The goal, which Sutton thoroughly deserved, only came courtesy of an injury to their midfielder Craig Eastmond, who suffered a suspected fractured ankle right at the end of normal time.

Five minutes had already been displayed on the fourth official’s board and by the time the unlucky 26-year-old was treated and stretchered off.

Pools looked like hanging on, but Aswad Thomas’s cross from the left deflected off sub Luke George and was headed across goal by Carl Magnay, who was attempting to clear. Instead, it ended up falling to Wright at the far stick who lashed in.

The timing was cruel on Pools, but there was justice for Sutton, who enjoyed the better of the contest and the chances. Was it a bad result for the hosts? Not in this reporter’s opinion, this was a point closer to their goal of promotion.

Should Pools beat Tranmere tomorrow night and win at strugglers Torquay on Saturday and take seven points from a possible nine then it will have been a good point.

Few fans will complain about such a tally, but it does crank the pressure up a tad.

However to be fair to Pools, on their last Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday sequence, they began with a draw against a promotion hopeful (Woking) and followed it with wins against sides below the in the table (Barrow and Solihull) so let’s see how it pans out this week.

Pools need Nicky Featherstone back in the side ... and fast. The midfielder has been a cog in the machine which has lost only once in two months.

It is no slight on Liam Donnelly who got through a ton of work sat in front of the back four, but Pools missed the quality of Featherstone, especially the fluidity and the passing he provides.

Sutton proved difficult opposition, hardly Mastermind stuff, given they don’t sit just outside the top three for nothing.

Kicking into the elements in the first half, they had the best of the play and undeniably the best sights of goal.

Nicky Bailey was narrowly wide of Loach’s left upright with a 30-yard free-kick before the goalie made a good save from Ross Lafayette’s 12th-minute shot from the edge of the area.

Magnay made an excellent block when Lafayette was left unmarked following a fine Sutton attack and Loach used his feet superbly to keep out a Josh Taylor effort in the 28th minute.

That Sutton keeper Jamie Butler only had an over hit Nicky Deverdics cross to deal with in over the first third of the match summed up matters from a Pools perspective.

But Deverdics was the chief instigator of the better home attacks so his involvement in the Oates goal was no surprise.

Former Pools midfielder Simon Walton lost the ball, allowing Deverdics to get on his bike.

The left-back released Devante Rodney, who cut in off the left side and let fly with his right foot from outside the box. Butler could only parry the ball and Oates was on hand to tuck the ball away. That the goal came soon after Craig Harrison had gone to a three-pronged frontline vindicated the tweak in style.

But it was who Sutton came close again before the break with Kieron Cadogan’s shot turned out for a corner by Loach.

After the interval, Sutton had Storm Brian at their backs and they had the wind in their sails again, with Magnay making crucial clearances with head and foot.

But Pools should have taken an unassailable lead in the 55th minute, only for Rodney to pass up a great chance at the Town End, where he made his name.

Jonathan Franks shot hard and low into the wind from the right, with Butler, just as he did in the first half , failing to put the ball safe with his stop . It fell to Rodney on the left of the goal and while the angle was tight and it was on his ‘wrong’ foot he should have found the inside of the net, rather than the side-netting.

Sutton should have made it 1-1 in the 63rd minute when Pools made one tremendous block on line from Louis John’s shot before Taylor went wide from the rebound.

Pools survived and the introduction of Blair Adams from the bench for the last quarter of an hour brought a brief surge from the boys in blue.

Fellow sub Connor Simpson headed wide from his excellent 82nd-minute cross from the left before his thumping drive brought a good save from Butler. This time the ball did not drop kindly for a home player.

The home defence, with Louis Laing standing strong under pressure, had shown great effort and admirable courage throughout some testing second-half moments.

But one goal is not always enough and so it proved as Tommy got it Wright at the end.