A goal in the last minute of normal time robbed Pools of all three points at The Abbey Stadium as Jake Gray’s opening goal was cancelled out by Cambridge United right at the death.
Pools had been good value for their lead and could have been further ahead but for the heroics of home keeper Will Norris but it looked as through Gray’s strike twenty minutes from time would be enough for the win until Ben Williamson struck a leveller in the 90th minute.
Ronnie Moore had reverted to the three in midfield which had brought joy against Wycombe Wanderers seven days previously, with Jake Gray re-introduced in to midfield just behind Ellis Harrison.
Lewis Hawkins returned to the starting eleven after impressing from the bench at Accrington in midweek, while Matthew Bates was back from a broken toe in defence to replace Scott Harrison who missed out with a knee problem.
Pools looked hungry in the opening stages and Ellis Harrison looked a particular threat getting in amongst the home central defenders Leon Legge and Mark Roberts.
The loanee could even have underlined that threat when Jake Carroll’s free-kick from the right fell to Harrison whose low shot hit the base of the post before rolling agonisingly along the line before keeper Will Norris was finally able to pounce on the loose ball during an ensuing melee.
Adam Jackson – who had recovered from a bout of sickness on Friday night to start for Pools – almost set-up Harrison for the opening goal after stepping out of defence and sliding the ball forward but this time Harrison’s fierce low shot was deflected wide.
Harrison then drew a clumsy foul from Roberts who was punished with a yellow card and Jordan Richards almost scored direct from the free-kick – with everyone expecting a delivery from the left, the full-back whipped it towards the far top corner where Norris just managed to tip it over.
It was all Pools and the hosts were struggling to cope; Harrison again got in to space on the edge of the box to drill a shot on goal which was well-parried by Norris who then leapt to his feet to brilliantly deny Jake Gray on the rebound.
At the other end there was some rare work for Trevor Carson who dealt with Robbie Simpson’s looping header before instantly setting-up a counter-attack with a huge clearance to Rhys Oates but his cross on the run was plucked off Harrison’s head by Norris.
Pools couldn’t find the deserved breakthrough and they suffered a blow on the half hour mark when Harrison raced in to a challenge with Darnell Furlong and the striker came off worst – forced off with injury to his ankle and replaced by Rakish Bingham.
The stoppage served to settle the game down and Cambridge enjoyed a little more possession with Luke Berry probing from the right side of The U’s diamond formation without really creating anything to worry the Pools’ rearguard.
The hosts started the second half with a greater tempo but Pools picked them off repeatedly on the break with Michael Woods pulling the string in the centre of midfield.
A brilliant pass through by the evasive Woods freed Gray who ran through on goal only for keeper Norris to sprint from his line and block superbly to deny the on-loan youngster.
Minutes later the same combination unlocked The U’s defence again and this time Gray fired a shot towards the bottom corner which was excellently palmed away by the home keeper who was already moving towards his Man of the Match award.
The industrious Hawkins almost grabbed the opening goal when the ball fell loose to him on the edge of the box after a good run and delivery from Jake Carroll but his volley fell just wide of the target.
The home side’s fans were growing irritated with Pools’ dominance but the introduction of winger Harrison Dunk – who scored the winner in this fixture last term – lifted the mood, as did the arrival of top scorer Barry Corr shortly afterwards.
And it was a Dunk corner from the left which gave Luke Berry a chance to head on goal but Trevor Carson was there to paw the effort away, while another Dunk delivery from a free-kick picked out Corr but his header was tame.
The U’s were beginning to build-up a head of steam but Pools ended that on 71 minutes when Gray was again sent through by Woods and this time his low finish crept in to the net under Norris to send the 186 travelling fans in to raptures.
Cambridge could – and probably should – have been on level terms almost immediately but when a corner fell towards skipper Mark Roberts he somehow nodded it wide from close range.
And Pools should have made him pay when Oates went rampaging down the left wing, showing brilliant pace before delivering a inviting low ball across the six-yard area for Bingham who just failed to connect.
Pools were forced on to the back foot as the game approached its closing stages; home substitute Ryan Donaldson fired a low shot towards the bottom corner that looked on its way before a superb block from Carroll.
And it looked as though it was going to be Pools’ day when Darnell Furlong found space on the right to fire a teasing ball across the goal but despite several players throwing themselves at it, nobody could get a decisive touch.
However, in the final minute of normal time a long diagonal ball dropped kindly for Williamson and he showed great composure to control and finish low past Carson to break Pools’ hearts.
Full Time: Cambridge United 1 Pools 1
Booked: Jackson (45), Richards (69)
Attendance: 5,054 (186 Pools)
Cambridge United: Norris, Furlong, Legge, Roberts, Page, Dunne, Berry, Ledson (donaldons 71), Simpson (Corr 63), Williamson, Ahearne-Frant (Dunk 54).
Subs Not Used: Omozusi, Beasant, Coulson, Horne
Pools: Carson, Richards, Bates, Jackson, Carroll, Hawkins, Woods, Featherstone, Oates (Jones 91), Gray, E Harrison (Bingham 34).
Subs Not Used: Bartlett, Thomas, Walker, Fenwick, Smith.