Hartlepool United conceded a last-minute goal to draw 2-2 with Ebbsfleet United at the Suit Direct Stadium, preventing their first ever victory over the Kent-based side.
Substitute Jake Hastie seemed to have given Pools a dramatic late win after great work by Mani Dieseruvwe, only for Dominic Samuel to snatch an equaliser in the fifth minute of added time.
Earlier, Dieseruvwe had given Pools a sixth-minute lead with his 12th goal of the season, though Fleet were soon on level terms through Billy Clifford.
The visitors proceeded to have the better of the game with Joel Dixon giving a man-of-the-match display between the home sticks to keep his team in it.
Boss John Askey brought in loan signing Mitch Hancox for his debut, playing to the left of top scorer Dieseruvwe with Chris Wreh, who was restored to the starting line-up, on the right in place of the ill Joe Grey. Terrell Agyemang was rewarded for an excellent substitute display against Rochdale, with a place in the XI.
Askey sent Pools out in a 4-3-3 formation with Zak Johnson, the recalled Manny Onariase, Joe Mattock and David Ferguson as the back four. There was a boost on the bench, where Callum Cooke and Kieran Wallace returned after injury.
And Pools got off to the perfect start with a Dierseruvwe super strike in the sixth minute. After the referee played a good advantage, Dierseruvwe made room for himself and fired an exquisite shot low past Mark Cousins into the net from 25 yards.
Sadly, the lead would only last three minutes. Ebbsfleet attacked swiftly down the right and a good pull-back found Clifford, whose right-foot strike from the edge of the box was every bit as good as Mani’s and nestled in Dixon’s net.
It was the start of a good footballing exhibition from the visitors, who controlled much of the play thereafter.
A fine save by Dixon denied Greg Cundle after Ebbsfleet opened up the Pools defence while there was a let-off for Pools when Dominic Poleon’s shot was deflected off a team-mate for a home goal-kick.
Pools almost conceded again but shots from Matty Fanimo and Samuel were comfortably saved by Dixon.
Pools changed back to a 3-5-2 as the half wore on, which seemed to improve matters slightly.
Right at the end of the first half, Dixon saved again, this time low to his left when he kept out Craig Tanner’s free-kick.
The home injury list gained another addition on 57 minutes when Joe Mattock came off. with Cooke returning to the Suit Direct Stadium to a warm ovation.
Pools were grateful to both Dixon and Onariase for keeping them in the game midway through the second half. First, Dixon made a strong stop from Samuel, with Onariase clearing Cundle’s follow-up shot off the line.
And Dixon was at it again soon after with a superb diving save low to his left to keep out Clifford’s shot which looked set for his bottom left corner.
Askey sent on Hastie 20 minutes from time and it gave both the team and crowd a lift with the Scot making a burst forward.
And Pools appeared to steal a winner in the final minute. Dieseruvwe made a great run from halfway to find Hastie free on his left and the sub finished superbly to spark wild scenes of celebration at the Town End.
But, just as in the first half, Pools could not hold onto their lead.
In the fifth minute of a scheduled eight added minutes, Ebbsfleet played a free-kick deep to the far post where sub Nathan Odokonyuero played the ball across the six-yard box for Samuel to apply the finish.
Remarkably, that wasn’t the end of the drama. Pools almost snatched a winner but Cousins made a tremendous point-blank save from Dieseruvwe, with Hastie going wide with a hurried rebound.
In the 11th minute, Ebbsfleet had a last chance but shot-stopper Dixon made another save to foil Odokonyuero.
Pools: Dixon, Johnson, Onariase, Mattock (Cooke 57), Ferguson, Featherstone, Crawford, Agyemang (Paterson 79), Hancox, Wreh (Hastie 69), Dieseruvwe
Subs (not used): Mazfari, Wallace
Goals: Dieseruvwe (6), Hastie (90+1)
Ebbsfleet goals: Clifford (9), Samuel (90+5)
Attendance: 3594 (75 away)