Pools fell to a fourth successive League Two defeat in agonising circumstances as Exeter City scored the only goal of the game deep in to injury time at St James’ Park.
It was particularly harsh on Pools who put in one of their best performances of the season, mixing defensive determination with some classy, attacking football in a game which could easily have ended in victory let alone defeat.
Ronnie Moore made three changes to his starting eleven, handing Brad Halliday his debut at right-back after he joined on loan from Middlesbrough while Andrew Boyce replaced Harry Worley at centre-back.
Billy Paynter was left at home nursing a hamstring injury so Matthew Bates came back in to midfield after recovering from a calf problem, allowing Jake Carroll and Rhys Oates to continue on the flanks either side of Rakish Bingham in attack.
While both sides began the game keen on playing good football at a high tempo, clear cut chances were at a premium in the opening stages.
The hosts looked dangerous whenever they fed the ball in to the creative Ryan Harley but the pace of Rakish Bingham through the middle and Rhys Oates on the right was providing a menace for City.
Oates showed a clean set of heels to full-back Jamie McAllister to drive infield and fire the first shot on goal but his effort was deflected from danger by a defender but it gave Pools confidence.
The summer signing from Barnsley was involved again moments later as he drifted infield to feed Bingham who inventively turned it round the corner for Bates on the right side of the box but his low cross was cut out as Michael Woods awaited it in the middle.
Harley produced a moment of magic for the hosts when he twisted and turned his way past skipper for the day Nicky Featherstone but the City schemer was left wondering how nobody could get a decisive touch on his low ball which passed through the six-yard box unaffected.
Bingham was giving his all in the lone-attacker role and he got clear on the right of the box after intelligent link-up play with Woods but he dragged his shot across goal and about a yard wide of the far post.
Pools were getting on top though and the probing of Woods was causing problems for the home side; he prodded another ball through for Featherstone who looked all set to score before Jordan TIllson’s perfectly-timed intervention with a sliding block.
A McAllister corner from the right created panic in the Pools area as it bobbled around dangerously but Scott Harrison blocked a shot up in the air before a foul on Adam Bartlett brought the chaos to an end.
Tom Nichols headed a Harley cross over the bar while, at the other end, Bingham couldn’t quite capitalise after being presented with the ball by a City defender on the edge of the box as an interesting first half drew to a close.
Pools began the second half with a real purpose too; Oates continued to create down the right-hand side and the half was only thirty seconds old when he drove inside and drilled a low shot on goal which was turned round the post by Olejnik.
Bingham then became the provider when he spun skilfully on Featherstone’s ball and darted for the left byline before pulling it back to Woods who couldn’t keep his shot down from ten yards.
Exeter showed signs of coming back in to the game with their best move of the game that led to the ball falling for Alex Nicholls twenty yards out but he blazed it over the cross bar.
However, the Grecians took heart from the opportunity and had their first shot on target moments later when Harley’s well-struck free-kick was well punched clear by Bartlett.
Substitute Clinton Morrison almost got through on goal only for Dan Jones to get back with a last-ditch challenge to prevent him getting a shot in while fellow sub Lee Holmes hit a shot straight at Bartlett.
And the Pools keeper had to be even more alert just afterwards when Joel Grant’s deep cross was forced goalwards but Bartlett got across his line quickly to claw it out.
The biggest chance of all arrived for Pools on 65 minutes when Woods played in Featherstone but he was chopped down by Oakley as he prepared to shoot and referee Andy Woolmer pointed to the spot. Bingham took on the responsibility from twelve yards but struck his penalty weakly and Olejnik was able to get down to his left and save.
Pools didn’t seem to be affected too badly by the setback and both Featherstone and Woods had goalbound shots charged down as City were again put under pressure.
However, with only seventy seconds of injury time remaining the unthinkable happened. A ball was played in to Morrison on the right of the area and he back-heeled it in to the path of Ribeiro who steered a low shot through legs and beyond Bartlett in to the bottom corner of the net.
It was a sickening moment that didn’t do justice to the performance of the Pools players, or the hardy 72 supporters who made the arduous trip to the South West to support them.
Full Time: Exeter City 1 Pools 0
Booked: Woods (63)
Attendance: 3135 (72 Pools)
Exeter City: Olejnik, Ribeiro, Bron, Tillson, McAllister, Wheeler, Harley, Oakley (Grant 74), Noble, Nicholls (Holmes 66), Nichols (Morrison 61).
Subs Not Used: Woodman, Oyeleke, McCready, Pym.
Pools: Bartlett, Halliday, Harrison, Boyce, Jones, Bates, Featherstone, Woods, Carroll, Oates, Bingham (Fenwick 77).
Subs Not Used: Denton, Worley, Walker, Hawkins, Oyenuga, Smith.