Liam Noble scored one penalty and missed another as Pools slipped to an agonising Boxing Day defeat to Gateshead at The International Stadium.
Having fallen two goals behind to The Tynesiders in the first half, midfielder Noble dragged Richard Money’s men back in to contention when he converted from the spot 87 minutes.
However, when presented with another chance from twelve yards in injury time the Club’s top scorer hit the outside of the post and the hosts held on to secure three points.
New boss Money opted to make three changes to his starting eleven as he continued his assessment of the squad at his disposal.
Kenton Richardson came back in at right-back, with Carl Magnay nudged in to a holding midfield role, Conor Newton returning in a more advanced role and Lewis Hawkins handed his first Pools appearance of the season following his return from a loan spell at York City.
It was Pools who began the game by seeing more of the ball, knocking it around well at time without really creating many inroads against a well-drilled Gateshead backline.
The home side’s top scorer sent out a warning shot on ten minutes when he barged his way on to the end of Luke Molyneux’s whipped free-kick from the right but he nodded it over the bar.
However, it was a warning Pools didn’t heed and Armstrong notched his tenth of the season three minutes later when he did well to run down the right side of the area before unleashing a powerful low drive which squirmed underneath Scott Loach and in to the net for 1-0.
Ryan Donaldson had a half-chance to bring Pools level when he found space at the other end but drilled over before Robbie Tinkler came within inches of making it 2-0 with a rasping drive from thirty yards which crashed back off the underside of Loach’s bar.
Good work in midfield from Hawkins and Newton saw Niko Muir sent away down the right of the penalty area and his low drive across goal was brilliantly turned round the post by Aynsley Pears in the Gateshead goal.
Pools kept up the pressure with a couple of corners but were then caught on the break on 33 minutes when a searching ball found Molyneux on the left of the area. He turned inside to feed Scott Barrow and when his shot was blocked by Harvey Rodgers, it ricocheted beyond Loach and perfectly for Armstrong who controlled excellently before slotting it in to the gaping net.
Pools could have grabbed one back almost immediately when Newton’s low ball in from the left was turned against the cross bar by Muir from close range, while Pears did well to get down to his right and smother Hawkins from the rebound.
A driving run from Donaldson produced the last noteworthy moment of a forgettable first half for Pools but, after reaching the edge of the area, he saw his shot blocked by a defender.
It was a quiet start to the second half but Pools continued to enjoy the greater share of possession, though Molyneux had the first real opening only to curl a shot over after driving infield from the right.
The introduction of Luke James perked up the Pools attack and when he flicked on Richardson’s cross in to the box, Newton first saw a low shot blocked before Noble hit the keeper with a follow-up from the edge of the area.
Midfield star Noble was one of the driving forces as Pools looked for a route back in to the game and he fired another shot straight at Pears after a powerful run to the edge of the area.
Magnay nodded a Noble free-kick straight at Pears, while Jon Mellish could have made game safe at the other end only to nod Molyneux’s precise right-wing corner wide at the front post.
James came mightily close to prodding Pools back in to it when he brilliantly spun on the ball in the box but Pears bravely smothered his shot and the home side survived the scare.
However, James was proving a difficulty for Gateshead to handle and minutes later he came even closer to finding the net when he fizzed a ferocious shot on goal from twenty-five yards which Pears did well to finger-tip round the post.
Pools were given further encouragement when Gateshead midfielder Tom White was shown a straight red card for an overly-zealous challenge on Muir and the visitors quickly took advantage.
It was no surprise when James was at the heart of the moment which dragged Money’s men back in to contention when he ran on to the ball on the right of the area before being felled by Pears – Noble did the rest with a calm spot-kick, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Incredibly, as stoppage time began, Kitching was fouled in the box and Referee Andrew Miller pointed to the spot again. Noble went the same way but this time got his angles wrong and his low shot touched the base of the left-hand post as it went wide.
Pools were stunned but kept on going and Josh Hawkes came within a whisker of netting a leveller when he drilled an powerful shot which just cleared the bar as the home fans breathed a sigh of relief.
Incredibly, there was still time for another heart-in-mouth moment for the hosts when Richardson’s cross-shot from the right deceived Pears and looked to be heading in, only for it to kiss the bar on its way across and out for a throw-in.
Full Time: Gateshead 2 Pools 1
Attendance: 2,678 (1477 Pools)
Gateshead: Pears, Tinkler, Kerr, Williamson, Mellish, Barrow (O’Donnell 51), White, Hunter, Molyneux, Armstrong, Boden (Rigg 65).
Subs Not Used: Foden, Thomson, Devitt.
Pools: Loach, Richardson, Rodgers, Davies, Kitching, Magnay, Noble, Hawkins (James 50), Newton (Hawkes 81), Donaldson, Muir.
Subs Not Used: Anderson, Featherstone, McLaughin.