Pools paid the price for not being ruthless enough in either final third as they fell to a frustrating 3-2 defeat at the hands of Eastleigh at The Silverlake Stadium on Saturday.
Craig Hignett’s men had been the better side during the first half and could have been out of sight had it not been for some sloppy defending of set-pieces and the heroics of the home keeper.
Indeed all three of the host’s goals arrived from corners during an engaging contest in which Pools more than played their part but too often shot themselves in the foot.
The game exploded in to life within ninety seconds when a clever corner kick saw Ben Williamson rifle the hosts in front with a clean right-foot strike having run on to Mark Yeates’ low delivery in to the front post.
The setback rocked Pools and they took a couple of minutes to clear their heads before getting back on the front foot and pressing for a leveller.
And it came on just six minutes when the recalled Luke James let fly from 25 yards and his shot cannoned back off the post to Kitching who simply knocked it in to the net from twelve yards to make it 1-1.
The game was being played at a frantic pace and Pools could have gone in front minutes later when Liam Noble’s drive was only parried by Luke Southwood in the Eastleigh goal but Luke Molyneux’s follow-up was cleared off the line.
On 14 minutes the hosts restored the lead, though. Another right-wing corner was this time hung up to the far post from where it was headed back across goal and prodded in to the net from close range by Alex Wynter.
Again Pools responded positively though and could have equalised once more when Noble chipped a lovely ball through to Molyneux whose first touch took him in to the box but his low shot was well blocked by Southwood.
Craig Hignett had warned his players about Eastleigh’s prowess from set-pieces before the game but they were almost caught out for a third time midway through the first half but this time Scott Loach produced a brilliant save to block Wynter’s header.
James then scampered away in to space on the edge of the box and sent Nicke Kabamba through on goal but again Southwood came out quickly, made himself big and blocked the shot behind.
Pools were on top now though and Ryan Donaldson drew another fine save from the home keeper with a long-range drive before then drilling a shot inches over after Eastleigh failed to fully-clear the resultant corner.
Molyneux was an increasing concern for The Spitfires as the half wore on and when he took the ball on the half turn and drove towards goal everyone expected him to shoot only for the loan star to brilliantly disguise a clever ball to Kabamba who was once again denied by Southwood heroics.
There was even time for James to try his luck when he spun sharply on the edge of the box but his shot looped just wide of the target thanks to a deflection off a defender.
The half-time dressing room must have been positive but all that was undone within two minutes of the restart when Eastleigh converted another corner – this time centre-back Shaun Hobson drilling home from close range after a clever short-corner from Matthews and Yeates.
For a spell afterwards Pools were on the ropes and the home side could have made it 4-1 when Williamson got through on the left side of the area but Loach got enough on his shot to deflect it on to the far post and out to safety.
As the second half developed, Hignett’s men once again regained their composure and began to press for a route back in to the game and it duly arrived on 71 minutes when Noble hoisted a cross to the far post where Kabamba’s perfect header flew back across Southwood and in to the net.
The Spitfires had another set-piece goal ruled out for offside, while substitute Chris Zebroski ought to have done better when he was played in down the middle but struck a tame shot straight at Loach.
Pools through the proverbial kitchen sink at their hosts in the closing stages, with Josh Hawkes and Niko Muir both thrown on to add further firepower in the search for another leveller but Eastleigh hung on to the points.
Full Time: Eastleigh 3 Pools 2
Booked: Noble (45), KIoso (63)
Eastleigh: Southwood, Hare, Wynter, Hobson, Boyce, Green, Jones (Miley 68), Hollands, Matthews (Zebroski 76), Yeates (Gobern 84), Williamson.
Subs Not Used: McKnight, Dennett.
Pools: Loach, Kioso, Kitching (Muir 90), Edgar, Anderson, Featherstone, Donaldson (Hawkes 76), Noble (Holohan 87) Molyneux, James, Kabamba.
Subs Not Used: Amos, Richardson.