Pools were forced to settle for a point against Plymouth Argyle after a controversial late penalty for the hosts cancelled out Nathan Thomas’ first half strike at Home Park.
Craig Hignett’s men had produced a dominant performance at the home of the league-leaders and had richly deserved their one-goal advantage only for referee Gavin Ward to penalise Toto Nsiala six minutes from time to hand Argyle a lifeline.
Pools had made two changes to the side which started against Mansfield Town seven days earlier, with Jake Carroll restored to full-back to cope with the loss of Carl Magnay and Padraid Amond preferred in attack.
It was Argyle started on the front foot with the danger man Graham Carey highlighting his threat with a driving run in to the box from the right but when he fired it across goal Pools were able to scramble it clear.
Craig Tanner was next to try his luck down the right flank and whipped a low cross in to the area where Scott Harrison was a perhaps a little lucky that his sliced clearance looped over the bar rather than anywhere more dangerous.
After that opening period though, Pools began to grow in confidence and stature; Nathan Thomas sent a warning shot to the home defence when he wriggled in to a yard of space and sent an effort wide.
Lewis Hawkins then got on the end of a flowing multi-pass move and worked an opening on his right foot only for his shot to be deflected wide of the target.
A wonderful set-piece lifted from the training ground almost presented Pools with the opening they were looking for when Lewis Alessandra got free to meet Thomas’ low left-wing corner but a defender was in the way to block.
Former Pilgrim Alessandra was enjoying plenty of possession though and was helping Pools probe at the hesitate home defence; he came close to scoring again when his twenty-five yard free-kick looked like troubling Luke McCormick but took a nick off the wall and looped over.
However, on 21 minutes the pressure told. Alessandra and Thomas worked hard to keep the ball alive on the left side of the penalty area and, when it rolled in to Thomas’ path, the winger lofted a cross-shot towards the far post which completely deceived McCormick and looped in to the top corner.
It was no more than Craig Hignett’s men deserved and they continued to lead the way for the majority of the first period; Thomas had another shot blocked after good work from Hawkins after a quick throw.
Josh Laurent had a wonderful opportunity to score his first Pools goal when Liam Donnelly’s deep cross was knocked back in his path by Thomas, but the midfielder screwed a left-foot shot over the bar.
Pools survived strong penalty appeals when Hawkins was accused of handling in the box with the complaints raging on from the home crowd and players even while Slew dragged a shot wide in the aftermath.
Toto Nsiala had to dive in to a brilliantly-timed challenge at the front post to prevent Jordan Slew’s low ball reaching Tanner in the middle as Argyle began to stir as the break approached.
And Pools were thankful to the reactions of Trevor Carson in the closing minutes of the half when he got right across his goal to superbly paw Carey’s curling free-kick around the post.
Pools began the second half in confident mood and quickly began to get the upper hand once again; Nathan Thomas tried a speculative long-ranger which was held by McCormick following a good lay-off from Alessandra.
Some brilliant work by the magnificent Laurent then set up another Pools raid on the Plymouth goal but Thomas could only get off a weak shot which was easily held by the keeper.
Argyle attempted to build some momentum but were struggling to break through a determined Pools rearguard, while Hignett’s battlers continued to look a menace on the counter and almost broke effectively with Alessandra but he was forced wide.
Jake Carroll linked up well down the left flank to move forward with purpose but when he fed Alessandra, the former Plymouth man curled an effort too high.
The Pilgrims’ first opportunity of note arrived just after when Carey’s first-time pass released full-back Ben Purrington down the left and his cross was headed agonisingly wide of the far post by substitute James Spencer.
Still Pools held a danger for the hosts on the counter-attack and Thomas led the next charge forward and teed up Featherstone twenty-five yards out but his shot was deflected wide. From the resultant corner, Pools maintained the pressure and Laurent almost sneaked in on goal but his toe-poke was smothered by McCormick.
However, with 84 minutes gone Nsiala hesitated as the ball bounced in the box but still seemed to make contact with the ball as he attempted to hook it clear under pressure from Spencer. The Argyle player hit the deck having been caught by Nsiala’s clearing foot and the referee instantly pointed to the spot, from where Jake Jervis drilled home the leveller.
It could even have got worse for Pools as time ticked on when Carey escaped in to space down the left and fizzed a low ball along the edge of the six-yard area where Donnelly had to get something on it and thankfully sent it over his own bar.
And in injury-time the referee added the final insult when he produced a second yellow card for Scott Harrison which reduced Pools to ten men for the final stages and will mean the centre-back must sit out Tuesday’s visit of Luton Town.
Hignett and his players were clearly incensed as the final whistle confirmed their point which was a hard result to take having led the game and been in the ascendancy for so long.
Full Time: Plymouth Argyle 1 Pools 1
Booked: Thomas (41), Harrison (73), Paynter (82), Nsiala (84), Donnelly (85) Deverdics (90)
Sent Off: Harrison (93)
Attendance: 7591 (69 Pools)
Pools: Carson, Donnelly, Nsiala, Harrison, Carroll, Featherstone, Hawkins (Richards 94), Laurent, Alessandra, Amond (Paynter 81), Thomas (Deverdics 78).
Subs Not Used: Bartlett, Richards, Orrell, Fewster, Heardman.