A DRAB stalemate with precious little goalmouth action saw Hartlepool United claim an away point at Walsall, writes Craig Hope.
All of the drama was confined to before the game as Pools were forced into a change after skipper Sam Collins limped from the warm-up with a calf complaint.
Josh Rowbotham was pitched straight into the starting line-up despite not having been named among the substitutes.
Fellow 18-year-old Lewis Hawkins had already been named in the side for what was his senior debut and the teenage duo started alongside one another in the centre of midfield.
The visitors enjoyed an encouraging start but it was the Saddlers who got the first sight at goal as George Bowerman wriggled free inside the area only to see his low drive skip narrowly wide.
Jon Macken was next to have a go during a subdued opening but his 25-yard strike was all too easy for Scott Flinders to gather.
The first-half was instantly forgettable and it was no surprise when Stuart Atwell brought it to a close with the game goalless.
The referee had a decision to make early in the second half when Neil Austin collided with Bowerman as he made his way towards goal.
The presence of the covering Peter Hartley spared his team-mate a red card but Walsall came within an inch of scoring from the resulting free-kick as Kevan Hurst curled wide.
It took until the hour mark for Pools to threaten but Tony Sweeney, having burst onto Ritchie Humphreys’ headed flick, was denied as David Grof scampered from his goal-line to narrow the angle and block on the edge of the six-yard area.
There was a real absence of quality from either side and only a misunderstanding between Peter Hartley and Jack Baldwin presented substitute Will Grigg with a chance on 68 minutes but he couldn’t squeeze between Flinders and his near post.
But there was a real let-off for Pools 12 minutes from time when Sam Mantom strode unmarked onto a Hurst centre only for the pitch to prove his undoing as the ball bobbled over his boot just eight yards from goal.