Hartlepool United 1 Crawley Town 1
James Collins scored his seventh goal of the season as Reds came from behind to draw at Hartlepool and extend our unbeaten run to six games.
Collins struck with 14 minutes to go with Reds first penalty of the season after he was pushed in the box. Crawley hit the woodwork four times and dominated, particularly in the first half, after going behind to Lewis Allessandra’s header, after Glenn Morris had parried Nathan Thomas’s penalty.
Reds made one change to the team that beat Blackpool in their last league game with Jason Banton replacing Adi Yussuf, who had failed to recover from a hamstring injury which forced him off during Tuesday’s win over Charlton Athletic.
The home side were soon into their stride with the woodwork rattled for the first time in the third minute. Collins’ volley was blocked by Josh Laurent for a corner which Mark Connolly met at the far post but saw his close-range shot come back off the underside of the bar.
But it was Hartlepool who broke the deadlock in the 11th minute. Danger man Nathan Thomas was pushed in the box by Andre Blackman and although Glenn Morris dived to his right to block his penalty Alessandra was first to the loose ball which he headed home.
It was Pools’ only effort on target in the first half. Reds responded to going behind positively and struck the woodwork twice in the space of ten seconds in the 18th minute. Jason Banton’s cross to the far post allowed Enzio Boldewijn to attack the space and head down and upwards onto the outside of the post. As the hosts struggled to get the ball away Collins’ shot was blocked and the ball fell to Jimmy Smith 20 yards out and the skipper – and the travelling fans behind the goal – could hardly believe their luck as his effort hit the bar with goalkeeper Adam Bartlett beaten.
Banton then failed to make clean contact ten yards out when he was picked out by Lewis Young’s cross and his effort went wide and in the 26th minute Banton and Boldewijn combined to set up Billy Clifford who side-footed inches over from 15 yards.
Reds were dominating possession and looked a threat every time they went forward as the home goal continued to lead a charmed life. Bartlett plunged to his right to keep out Smith’s volley from 20 yards and in first-half stoppage time Clifford clipped a free kick from the edge of the box just over after Scott Harrison brought down Collins.
Collins volleyed wide on the turn and, despite holding the advantage, it was probably the hosts who were more pleased to hear the half-time whistle.
Reds had a penalty appeal turned down on 50 minutes when Harrison appeared to handle Boldewijn’s pass. The hosts began the second half with a solid 4-5-1 formation as they tried to keep Reds at arm’s length and Drummy changed things in the 58th minute when Blackman, who had just been booked for dissent, and Banton were replaced by Chris Arthur and Bobson Bawling.
Hartlepool had drawn four of their five home games this season and were determined to improve that statistic. In contrast to the first half, Reds were not enjoying anywhere near as much space and as the game entered the final quarter the home side appeared to have taken the sting out of proceedings.
But with 16 minutes to go the visitors got the equaliser they deserved. Collins got the wrong side of Jake Carroll when Smith angled the ball in from the left and was pushed by the defender. Referee Jones pointed to the spot and after a lengthy delay Collins tucked the ball into the bottom left-hand corner to make it 1-1.
Allesandra was frustrated to see his shot on the turn go a yard wide with 11 minutes to go and Nsiala went desperately close to heading a late winner from Alessandra’s left-wing corner but fortunately for Reds it dropped the wrong side of the left-hand post.
However, it was Crawley who came closest to snatching a late winner. Deep into stoppage time Clifford’s effort from the edge of the box smashed against the corner of post and bar. The loose ball dropped to Collins but as he was trying to force it over the line Harrison got back to make a fantastic clearance.
It was a breathless end to an entertaining afternoon but Reds will probably feel, on chances created, that a point was the least they deserved.