Gavan Holohan celebrated signing a new contract by scoring his ninth goal of the season as Pools came from behind to claim a point at Sutton United on Saturday.
The midfielder steered home a delightful finish eight minutes in to the second half to cancel out Isaac Olaofe’s early opener for the hosts on an afternoon when much of the talk remained on the Coronavirus outbreak.
A larger than usual crowd found their way to Gander Green Lane for the contest with Crystal Palace, Southampton and AFC Wimbledon fans among those who were attracted along in the absence of any action for their own clubs.
Dave Challinor made three changes to his starting eleven, bringing Rob Harker back in to attack, while Josh Hawkes was handed his first start since Boxing Day and Macauley Southam-Hales returned at right-back after missing last week’s defeat to Ebbsfleet United with concussion.
Pools got off to the worst possible start though. Keeper Ben Killip loitered too long in possession on the edge of his six-yard area and his attempted clearance was charged down by the alert Olaofe, sending the ball hurtling in to the roof the net.
It took Challinor’s men a little while to clear their heads and the dangerous David Ajiboye almost added a second on ten minutes when he brilliantly dribbled his way through the Pools defence before being denied by a fine save from Killip.
Olaofe hammered another effort just over the bar from the edge of the area as the hosts continued to make much of the running in the opening stages.
The best Pools mustered was a blocked shot from Josh Hawkes but they almost got a leveller on 28 minutes when Holohan wriggled in to the box from the left only to see his powerful drive blocked by Ben Goodliffe.
The half-time break gave Challinor a chance to have his say – and his words seemed to have the desired effect as they came out looking much livelier at the start of the second half.
Southam-Hales came close to a leveller when his overhit cross almost turned in to a fortunate goal but it dropped on to the roof of the net as home keeper Nik Tzanev scrambled backwards.
At the other end there was some good defending from Gary Liddle and Timi Odusina to thwart Ajiboye after he again ran through on goal to shoot.
However, Pools were level on 53 minutes when Hawkes sent a pass across to Luke Molyneux on the right and he picked a ball through a crowded area in to the feet of Holohan 14 yards out and he swept it across Tzanev and in to the top left corner of the net for 1-1.
Sutton seemed annoyed by the setback and came close to instantly restoring their lead when Omar Bugiel got in to space on the left of the box but his shot deflected wide of the far post.
Pools were in control for a period after that though, and boss Challinor made his intent to go on and win the game clear when he introduced former Sutton man and top scorer Gime Toure on the hour.
Good chances remained at a premium though despite Pools looking the more likely and it was the hosts who finished the stronger in the closing minutes, almost stealing in front when Harry Beautyman stretched to reach a deep cross at the far post but he saw his shot hit the post.
Ajiboye thought he had won it right at the death when he drove a shot back across goal towards the top corner but Liddle somehow got back to glance the strike over the bar with his head.
It was an extraordinary piece of defending from Liddle who was making his 299th Pools appearance – it’s anyone’s guess when the on-loan centre-back will get the opportunity to make his 300th.
Full Time: Sutton United 1 Pools 1
Sutton United: Tzanev, Barden, Goodliffe, John, Wyatt, Randall, Milsom, Beautyman, Ajiboye, Bugiel (Dundas 87), Olaofe (Eastmond 79).
Subs not used: Rowe, Brown, Kealey.
Booked: Bugiel. Barden.
Pools: Killip, Southam-Hales, Odusina, Liddle, Kitching, Featherstone, Holohan, Donaldson (Mafuta 80), Hawkes, Molyneux (Keena 71), Harker (Toure 61).
Subs not used: Beeney, Richardson.
Booked: Hawkes, Kitching.
Referee: Lewis Smith.