THE blue shirts of Hartlepool United's newly-formed youth team dropped to the floor at Victoria Park when the final whistle brought an early end to an appearance in this season's FA Youth Cup.
The Pools side, after joining forces with Hartlepool College of Further Education, was made up of 16-year-olds in the Under-18s competition and were narrowly defeated by Hebburn Town in the second qualifying round.
A seventh minute free-kick from Dillan Short did the damage even though Pools controlled much of the game and created numerous chances to level, particularly in the second half.
It was the first competitive game the group has played together.
Ian McGuckin, the Hartlepool Under-18s boss, said: “I'm disappointed for the players. This competition is all about the players and their experiences. They have enjoyed tonight.
“Performance-wise they did everything required barring the most important bit and scoring the goals. The effort and attitude was magnificent and remember this is a new group. They will only grow.
‘They have just come off the playground effectively. The whole experience is new for them. You are going to a college, moving into a full-time training model. That takes time to adapt to as well. Physically takes time to adapt.
“Every individual there tonight, there were loads of positives. Loads of areas that we can help them develop in. It's a learning process. It's a starting point. We will see improvement from here on in.”
The occasion attracted Hartlepool's first team coaching staff, with manager Dave Challinor, assistant Antony Sweeney, coach Joe Parkinson and goalkeeper coach Ross Turnbull all in attendance to lend their support.
Given it was the first match for the team, it was understandable a few nerves were evident early on and Hebburn took the lead.
Niall Docherty had already forced goalkeeper Mauro Asikaugo into a save from distance before he was beaten inside the seventh minute.
Hebburn's Harry Scurfield won a foul on the edge of the area when he was brought down by Oliver Cann. Town centre-back Short did the rest, side-footing low and with power inside the bottom left corner of Asikaugo's net.
Rather than collapse after the frustrating start, the Hartlepool teenagers grew in confidence as the first half wore on and the only disappointment was they didn't test goalkeeper Cieran Churchill enough.
Connor Gales showed some nice touches on the right and got in behind a couple of times, and he had shouts for a penalty waved away when the home players felt he got to the ball first ahead of Churchill.
There were a few efforts off target, including one when the lively Harry Close cut inside from the left and directed a shot over the bar when things appeared to open up in front of him.
Hebburn defended strongly as well as looking to threaten while Hartlepool's midfield of Josh Daley, Mckellan Lines and the impressive Mackenzie Kirwan all looked to move the ball around well in the middle.
It was still the visitors who forced Newcastle-based Asikaugo into the next save, when he dived strongly to his right to hold Scurfield's distance drive.
Hartlepool started the second half full of intent and earned a free-kick within a couple of minutes on the right.
Kirwan's deep delivery to the back post was met by towering left-back Josh Hatton's header. That flew the wrong side of the upright from six yards.
There was also a Close drive that rose above the bar and another Kirwan free-kick from the left was spilled by Churchill, only to be cleared before a blue shirt reacted.
With the hour approaching Hartlepool went even closer. Kirwan was this time involved for winning the free-kick and then Close's right-foot curler from 22 yards rocked the centre of the crossbar.
Lines, one of three born in the town, somehow side-footed Kirwan's corner wide from inside six yards as McGuckin and Co were left wondering how it was not level.
Hebburn reminded the hosts what they could conjure up too with quarter of an hour to go. Kain Campbell was played in behind the left-back and his drive from a tight angle was stopped by Asikaugo. The same player dragged another effort wide from a similar area.
Hartlepool pushed on in the closing stages but were unable to find that extra bit of magic required to force penalties and defeat left every player floored on the surface.
Hartlepool Under-18s: Asikaugo; Cann, Hatton, Daley, Lea, Sawden, Gales, Kirwan, Ord, Lines (Jamalipour 88), Close. Subs (all used).
Hebburn Under-18s: Churchill; Kelwick, Docherty, Herald, Archibald, Short, Campbell, Scurfield, Woodroffe, J Robinson, M Robinson. Subs: Arthur, Taylor, Sineh, Hepplewhite, Kay.