James Double Earns Pools Point
A late equaliser from Bristol Rovers meant Pools had to settle for a draw at The Memorial Stadium.
It looked as though Luke James first half double was going to be enough to seal a first away victory of the new campaign until Rovers midfielder John-Joe O’Toole fired home an 89th-minute leveller.
The game started in cagey fashion with neither side able to string too much intricate football together, though it was Pools who seemed to carry a greater threat down both flanks.
A Jack Compton corner flashed across the area with nobody able to provide a decisive touch while Simon Walton stung the palms of Rovers keeper Steve Mildenhall with a well-struck drive after trading passes wonderfully with Andy Monkhouse.
Jonathan Franks came even closer when he was allowed to carry the ball on to his right foot on the edge of the box but his low drive cannoned back off the base of the post and the hosts escaped.
Pools were growing more confident with every minute so it was a shock to the system when Rovers stole the lead on 34 minutes; Eliot Richards cross landed on the chest of target man Matt Harrold who was able to turn and fire a low shot across Scott Flinders and in to the bottom corner.
Rather than knock Pools out of their stride though, the goal served to add extra determination and incredibly they were back on level terms within sixty seconds. Luke James afforded too much space twenty yards from goal and he drilled a ruthless finish beyond Mildenhall and in to the left-hand corner of the net.
And it got even better for Pools in first half injury time when Rovers failed to deal with a corner which Christian Burgess fought to keep alive – the ball finally falling at the feet of James who lashed it back across Mildenhall in to the same bottom corner.
Pools were probably expecting a bright opening to the second half from their hosts – and they weren’t disappointed as Rovers came out strongly and created some good openings.
Tom Lockyer’s effort from the edge of the box took a deflection which sent it up and off the cross bar, with the terrific Jack Baldwin on hand to block the goalbound follow-up from Eliot Richards before it was hacked clear by Monkhouse.
Baldwin was again on hand to deny the dangerous Harrold the space to get away a clean shot when he pulled off at the back post to collect a deep cross from the left.
Mitch Harding jinked in to space on the edge of the box but hit a tame shot at Flinders, while at the other end Michael Duckworth burst skilfully in to the penalty area but drove an effort wide of the target.
Rovers full-back Michael Smith delivered a testing ball in to the box which was flicked on at the front post but diverted wide of the far post by Richards.
James was continuing to cause problems for the home side on the counter-attack with the Rovers defence backing off every time the 18-year-old got in to possession. He could have celebrated his hat-trick after robbing the defender of the ball on the half way line and then spreading it wide to Franks but when he got on the end of the cross he miscued his volley in to the keeper’s hands.
The teenage starlet got even closer to his treble moments later when he shrugged off the attentions of three defenders but just as he went to shoot he was put off his stride by a late lunge from O’Toole and his effort was brilliantly saved low to his left by Mildenhall.
From the resultant corner Christian Burgess could have made it 3-1 when he ran unopposed on to Jack Compton’s in-swinging delivery only to glance a header wide of the far post.
And Pools were made to pay for not quite finishing off their opponents when with only sixty seconds left on the clock Rovers raided down the left and the ball was cut back to O’Toole whose powerful side-footed effort flew under Scott Flinders and into the net.
On further reflection a point will be seen as a good result for Pools but for much of the long journey home it may feel like a defeat to the players after coming so close to securing all three.
Full Time: Bristol Rovers 2 Pools 2
Attendance: 5,579 (113 Poolies)
Bristol Rovers: Mildenhall, Smith, Parks, Brown, McChrystal, Richards (Clarkson 86), Bond, Lockyer, O’Toole, Harrold, Harding (Harrison 64).
Subs not used: Gough, Keary, Southway, Gill, Norburn.
Pools: Flinders, Duckworth, Baldwin, Burgess, Austin, Franks (Collins 77), Walton, Dolan, Compton, Monkhouse (Poole 84), James.
Subs not used: Rafferty, Richards, Holden, Sweeney, Rodney.
Compton, Walton (Pools), Lockyer (Bristol Rovers).Booked: