Pools winning run at Victoria Park came to an abrupt end on Saturday as Ebbsfleet United ran out 1-0 winners in a bad-tempered National League encounter.
Gozie Ugwu’s penalty 12 minutes from time was enough to settle a fractious affair, though Pools were left kicking themselves after domination possession but failing to find the killer goal.
Dave Challinor’s men were looking to clinch a fifth successive win on home soil for the first time since the promotion season of 2006/07 but there was a warning that they weren’t going to have it all their own way inside the first minute.
The visitors – five points adrift of National League safety ahead of kick-off – sprung forward down the right and when Josh Umerah swung an inviting ball to the far post, Ugwu’s downward header bounced up off the bar and out as Pools fans breathed a sigh of relief.
It took a little time but Pools did begin to settle in to the game and Ryan Donaldson had a half-chance when left alone on the edge of the box from a corner but his shot was charged down.
Luke Molyneux strangled an effort wide from the edge of the box and Mark Shelton saw a back post header held by the keeper as Pools assumed control and the visitors defended with determination.
There was another sight of goal for Molyneux midway through the half when he again ducked inside from the right but this time his shot was held by keeper, Jordan Holmes.
Aidan Keena – back in the starting eleven after his midweek winner – led a dangerous counter-attack down the right before bringing the ball across to feed Gime Toure but the Frenchman’s shot flashed wide of the post.
Pools’ best opportunity came in first half stoppage time when Gavan Holohan’s tenacity on the left earned him the chance to cross and his far post delivery was met by Shelton and looked destined for the net – only for it to strike the unlucky Keena and stay out.
Shelton could have netted right at the start of the second half when he picked a way through The Fleet defence on the right of the area but his drilled ball took a nick off a defender and flashed across goal and wide.
Keena looked like being the hero again on the hour mark when Donaldson’s teasing ball from the right landed right on the Irishman’s head but his effort went straight at the grateful Holmes in the Ebbsfleet goal.
It was proving to be the that sort of afternoon for the visiting goalie and he was in the right place again moments later when Molyneux found a yard to drill a shot in which was held by Holmes.
Toure was next to nod an effort on target only to find Holmes’ hands again but the Pools front man was guilty at the other end on 75 minutes when he tripped his man trying to win the ball and gave away a penalty. Ugwu held his nerve to fire home from the spot.
It could have got worse for Pools not long after the restart when Michael Timlin escaped through on goal but his angled drive was parried by Ben Killip and Nicky Featherstone was there to clear the danger.
Donaldson fizzed a late effort just too high and substitute Josh Hawkes’ long-range daisy-cutter almost found a route past Holmes who was grateful to hold on – as were the visitors at the final whistle for this three points could be massive in their fight for survival.
Full Time: Pools 0 Ebbsfleet United 1
Pools: Killip, Liddle, Odusina, Kitching, Featherstone, Donaldson, Shelton (Harker 80), Holohan (Hawkes 85), Molyneux, Toure, Keena.
Subs not used: Richardson, Mafuta.
Booked: Killip, Featherstone, Toure.
Ebbsfleet United: Holmes, King, Wilson, Egan, Umerah (Adeloye 86), Ugwu, Grimes, Timlin, Ekpiteta, Payne (Obileye 74), McGlashan.
Subs not used: Goddard, Palmer, Achuba.
Booked: Adeloye, Ugwu, Timlin, McGlashan.
Attendance: 3,868 (65 Ebbsfleet).
Referee: Aaron Jackson.