Stevenage 1 Hartlepool Utd 0

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HARTLEPOOL Utd failed to score for an eighth consecutive match as they were beaten 1-0 at Stevenage.

Despite an improved display and having shaded the share of the openings, John Hughes’ side again lacked a killer instinct in the final third, their barren patch extended to a massive 12 hours.

The defeat – inflicted by Max Ehmer’s 76th-minute strike - leaves Pools eight points from safety with just four matches remaining.

The hosts, celebrating the return of Graham Westley as manager, were immediately on the offensive and Luke Freeman tested Scott Flinders with a low blast from 25 yards.

But the best chance of the opening exchanges belonged to Pools, Charlie Wyke spinning sharply inside the area before seeing a snap shot become wedged between the legs of a grateful Steve Arnold in the home goal.

Just before the half-hour mark Darren Holden took aim for the visitors when he charged fully 20 yards from the left-back position before seeing a right-footed drive land on the roof of the net.

It wasn’t until first-half stoppage time that Stevenage again threatened Flinders, Marcus Haber’s six-yard header from Freeman’s centre gathered easily by the Pools netminder.

The Boro were lucky to keep 11 men on the pitch shortly after the restart for the second period when Wyke, having stolen a yard on the shoulder of Mark Roberts, was dragged to the turf by the recovering defender.

Pools appealed that their man was clean through on goal but the man in black deemed that Bondz N’Gala had worked himself into a recovering position and so a yellow card sufficed.

Stevenage should have taken the lead on 54 minutes when Freeman’s corner dropped at the far post but the unmarked Roberts and Haber collided and the chance was gone.

With the game beginning to open Pools launched a swift counter-attack down the right flank and, after Wyke had freed Jon Franks, the wideman blazed narrowly over having burst at pace into the area.

Simon Walton then drew a smart save from Arnold when hammering a free-kick on target from 20 yards out.

Luke James was introduced on 67 minutes and within 60 seconds he had shaved the base of the post having escaped in the inside-right channel.

James then swept a low ball across the face of goal where Andy Monkhouse, steaming in at the far post, was a toe away from poking home.

And the opener came very much against the run of play when, after Freeman had jinked by three men and Filipe Morais’ shot was partially blocked, the ball ran kindly for Ehmer who hammered home from 12 yards.

Flinders kept Pools in the game when blocking Freeman’s close-range blast on 78 minutes.