ANTONY Sweeney salvaged a late draw for plucky Hartlepool United as they held promotion chasing Sheffield Wednesday to a 2-2 draw at Hillsborough today, writes Craig Hope.
The hosts had managed to claw themselves in front thanks to goals from Jermaine Johnson and Gary Madine after Peter Hartley had headed Pools into a 47th-minute lead.
But Sweeney struck three minutes from time when he sent a stupendous 25-yard lob beyond a helpless Nicky Weaver to extend the visitors’ unbeaten run to three matches under new boss Neale Cooper.
The game was just four minutes old when Chris Lines found Chris O’Grady free in the area, but he snatched at his effort and the ball whistles across the face of Scott Flinders’ goal.
The ferocious wind howling around Hillsborough was making things difficult for both sides, but Neil Austin managed to steer a 20-yard volley towards goal and was unlucky to see his strike bounce inches wide of the upright.
A mistake by Paul Murray on 11 minutes allowed Lewis Buxton to drive into the area from the right flank.
He managed to locate Mike Jones unmarked on the penalty spot but he was first thwarted by a brilliant sliding block from Austin before Flinders saved with his legs at the midfielder’s second attempt.
Pools, though, began to enjoy some attacking possession as the half-hour mark loomed and, when defensive confusion reigned from an Evan Horwood free-kick, a quick-thinking Steve Haslam was only denied a goal against his former club when his deft lob was flapped away by Nicky Weaver.
But Luke James should have opened the scoring on 31 minutes when Rob Jones was a complete hash of an attempted back pass, allowing the teenager to scamper clear.
James, though, got far too much on his attempt to nick the ball wide of the fast-closing Weaver and the chance was gone.
Despite the conditions both teams were beginning to carve out a string of openings and Gary Madine side-footed wide from just six yards out after Reda Johnson had swept an inch-perfect cross onto his boot.
Madine was again involved on 37 minutes when he raced clear of Hartley only to be tugged to the ground by the Pools defender.
The Owls striker was in on goal and a red card seemed inevitable, but referee Gavin Ward angered the home players and supporters when he decided a yellow was sufficient punishment.
And Hartley added insult to injury for the Owls when it was he who headed Pools in front 90 seconds after the break, muscling his way onto Evan Horwood’s corner-kick six yards from goal.
But the hosts were level on 57 minutes when substitute Johnson bundled his way by Horwood on the right wing before drilling into the bottom corner from an acute angle.
It was end-to-end stuff and a neat passage of Pools play fashioned a chance for Sweeney, but he hooked wide from close range having got the better of Rob Jones to meet Gary Liddle’s centre.
Flinders was again called into action at the other end as he dived bravely at the feet of Ryan Lowe to smother the substitute’s close-range poke on 73 minutes.
But disaster struck for Pools and Hartley 15 minutes from time when the defender’s attempt to clear presented Madine with a chance 12 yards out and he made no mistake, blasting through the legs of Flinders and into the back of the net.
There was to be one more late twist, however, and Sweeney sent the away fans into raptures when he looped home from distance on 87 minutes.