Pools fell to a disappointing defeat against Oxford United in a game which ended in ill-tempered fashion at Victoria Park.
Inside the last five minutes Colin Cooper’s men conceded a penalty and were denied one themselves either side of a dubious red card shown to substitute Steve Howard.
It was a period not in keeping with the majority of the afternoon’s play with only the wind inside The Vic misbehaving prior to that crazy finale.
Oxford were out of the blocks quickest in the north-east sunshine and Pools looked sluggish early on – highlighted when they failed to clear their lines on the edge of the box and winger Ryan Williams stroked home a lovely opening goal on four minutes.
The setback knocked Pools firmly out of their stride and it took them time to recover their composure; their best effort came when Simon Walton was fed by Jonathan Franks on the edge of the area but his shot was too high.
Visiting front pair Deane Smalley and Alfie Potter were causing problems and it was the latter who almost doubled their lead when the flag stayed down to allow him to chase forward down the right but after chopping inside on his left foot his tame shot was saved by Scott Flinders.
Colin Cooper attempted to inject some tempo in to Pools’ play before the half time whistle when he introduced James Poole to the attack and switched the busy Andy Monkhouse to the right – and it was a move which helped the side get a foothold in the game.
After the break their improvement continued and they drew level within three minutes when Jack Compton headed the ball in to the danger area from the left where it dropped for Luke James to rifle home his third goal in two games.
The goal whipped up the crowd and galvanised the players and Pools drove forward looking to get their noses in front for the first time; Compton’s fizzing cross was well cleared at the far post with Monkhouse lurking, while Christian Burgess came close to converting Matty Dolan’s free-kick.
However, when the second goal didn’t arrive Oxford began to become more of a presence on the counter-attack and Potter served warning when he got in on the left of the box but scuffed his shot across goal.
It was a warning Pools didn’t heed and midway through the second period they fell behind again; determined play from Sean Rigg down the left put Potter in to space and when he squared for Smalley the front man delivered a composed finish in to the bottom right-hand corner.
For all it set Pools back again they could have been level pretty quickly when Compton’s left-wing delivery flashed to the feet of James but this time his instinctive prod at goal was well blocked by U’s keeper Ryan Clarke.
While no blame could be attached to Pools’ teenage front man, it proved a key moment in the game, as with the game just in to injury time Jack Baldwin’s backpass was short and substitute Scott Davies took a tumble under Flinders’ desperate challenge. A penalty was awarded a duly despatched by Asa Hall.
And when play restarted it got worse for Pools; Howard stretched to retain possession of the ball on the halfway line and was beaten to it by Mullins who went down in a heap – the Oxford defender had hardly had time to quell his squeal before the referee was flashing red at the disbelieving Pools front man.
With injury time almost elapsed, referee Simpson – who last season sent-off Simon Walton only for it later to be rescinded – ruled that Compton had dived in the penalty area and produced a yellow card for simulation. It looked a harsh decision on the Pools winger to say the very least.
Colin Cooper admitted afterwards that the final five minutes had left a sour taste in his mouth and he’ll be hoping to quickly wash that away when Pools travel to Mansfield Town next week.
Full Time: Pools 1 Oxford United 3
Pools: Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Austin (Howard 84), Franks (Poole 38), Walton (Sweeney 90), Dolan, Compton, Monkhouse, James.
Subs not used: Rafferty, Collins, Holden, Rodney.
Oxford United: Clarke, Newey, Raynes, Hunt, Mullins, Rigg (Ruffels 82), Hall, Williams (Constable 70), Rose, Smalley (Davies 85), Potter.
Subs not used: Jalal, Bevans, Marsh, O’Dowda.
Booked: Compton (Pools), Mullins, Rigg (Oxford)
Sent-off: Howard (Pools)