Hartlepool United must have finally thought their Ebbsfleet hoodoo was broken going into the second half with a 2-0 lead against 10 men. Fleet had Josh Umerah red carded just after Pools’ second – the first two goals the visitors had scored in five tries against us – and there was a mountain to climb in the second half for Kevin Watson’s men.
But Hartlepool reckoned without Myles Weston and the never-say-die attitude of his teammates as the winger’s two-goal blast grabbed a point. Jamie Grimes had to clear off the line as the seconds ticked down, however, to keep that point protected.
Watson named six changes with Harry Palmer, Jamie Grimes, Lawrie Wilson, Albie Morgan, Frankie Sutherland and Josh Umerah coming in for Jordan Holmes, Tyler Cordner, Andre Blackman, Alex Lawless, Alfie Egan, and Alex Reid.
The first half was one to forget for the Fleet faithful to say the least but until Pools got their opener, there wasn’t much in it in terms of real chances though the visitors were much the better side.
Wilson’s cross for Umerah on seven minutes needed to be defended well but at the other end, Palmer had to make a smart stop from a Gavan Holohan shot after the visitors forced a couple of corners.
The two sides traded opportunities for a period with Pools goalkeeper Ben Killip thwarting Umerah after unselfish play from Gozie Ugwu before Luke James got to a ball ahead of Grimes but fired well wide for the visitors.
And they began to get properly on top from the 30-minute mark, Nicke Kabamba dragging an effort wide once he’d been afforded space to attack.
While Pools had enjoyed more pressure without doing much with it, that all changed on 32 minutes. The red shirts were split open by a ball to the in-form Holohan and although his shot carried little venom, it deflected with enough skew to send the visitors into the lead.
Fleet’s best response was a useful build-up that culminated in Morgan sending an effort just wide. But any thoughts of a quickfire revival were buried three minutes before the break. It was neat football and good approach play by Hartlepool, culminating in a cross for Holohan to nod past Palmer though in truth James’s cross was invited once more with the defence standing off.
A bad situation became a calamity on the stroke of half-time when Umerah got in a tangle with Michael Raynes and his kick out at the Pools defender after the ball had been played garnered him a straight red card.
Watson had to change something and he brought on Tomi Adeloye upon the restart, Sutherland making way. Within five minutes, Ayo Obileye joined the fray in Wilson’s place but Fleet were still having to chase the ball as Hartlepool began the half with understandable confidence.
Holohan wasted a good chance for a third with a high shot before Palmer got hands to James’s effort and then saved from Nicky Featherstone as Pools sought to gain an unassailable lead.
That they didn’t was due to a gradual but determined renewal of belief about the home side.
It began in earnest with just over 20 minutes left on the clock when Myles Weston was dragged back by Featherstone as he bore down on goal but the somewhat erratic Lloyd Wood deemed it worthy only of a yellow card.
With the home crowd objecting and Fleet responding, it set up an exciting finale. A couple of corners saw Obileye head over but then on 72 minutes, Weston got on the end of another pass this time from Adeloye and with a strong run, despatched an excellent effort beyond Killip.
And eight minutes later, the 10 men of Fleet got the equaliser they’d scarcely looked like achieving a quarter of an hour earlier. It came from Weston again, his free-kick from the right floating across a nervy Hartlepool back line and as Grimes’ run and feint deceived Killip, the ball sailed straight in.
There was a half-hearted Fleet penalty shout as the clock ticked down and then four minutes of added time. Hartlepool, who let a two-goal lead at Notts County slip in their last league outing, almost emulated County’s late goal here last week when substitute Jason Kennedy pounced to draw a fantastic goalline clearance from Grimes and that ultimately saved the home side’s hard-won point.
Results elsewhere saw Fleet fall a place but the unexpected point ironically closed the gap to safety to three points. And on this evidence, Fleet might be prone to defensive frailities but they’ll fight to the last as well.
EUFC: Palmer, Ekpiteta, Grimes, King, Wilson (Obileye 50), Morgan, Payne, Sutherland (Adeloye 46), Weston, Ugwu (Reid 79), Umerah. Subs not used: Lawless, Cordner.
HUFC: Killip, Kioso, Raynes, Kerr, Kitching, Featherstone, Mafuta, Holohan (Kennedy 85), James, Kabama (Toure 76), Donaldson. Subs not used: Cunningham, Hawkes, Muir