Few observers gave the Fleet much chance of making it a third 1-0 win in a row at Hartlepool, but Kevin Watson’s men did just that to maintain an unbeaten record against the home side, writes Mark Halliday.
A late Gozie Ugwu penalty, the striker’s 13th goal of the season and 11th in the league, moved Fleet to within two points of Maidenhead United with eight games left to play.
Watson, hampered by Adam Mekki’s return to Bromley, threw Alfie Egan into the fray while Marvel Ekpiteta returned from injury and that meant a place on the bench for John Goddard.
It was Hartepool’s biggest crowd of the season to see if they could extend their winning run on home soil, but the visitors were looking to make it an impressive fourth win in seven matches.
Fleet could have been ahead with just 50 seconds on the clock when an attack from kick-off launched Josh Umerah down the right and his cross to Ugwu was headed down off the ground and against the bar, Egan’s follow-up denied by a good block from Timi Odusina.
Having survived that scare, Hartlepool felt their way into the match, seizing control of the ball and taking the game to the Fleet. They forced a succession of openings but by and large missed the target or struck efforts at Jordan Holmes to the immense frustration of the home crowd.
Luke Molyneux was the chief villain of the piece – he was busy and strong on the ball but failed to overly trouble Holmes with a number of shots. On 11 minutes he dragged a shot well wide and struck another one straight at the Fleet goalkeeper from 20 yards. Mark Shelton then headed a corner into the arms of Holmes.
Fleet’s three in the centre battled well and had a thankless task to keep a rein on the Hartlepool midfield but cope they did. There were a couple of moments for the visitors midway through the half when Umerah planted a cross on Ugwu’s head but that went over the bar and Michael Timlin’s threaded pass into Egan almost took advantage of some poor play from the home side.
But Pools forced the issue again from the half-hour mark. Mark Kitching sent an effort wide before his next chance needed the intervention of Marvel Ekpiteta to block.
The strong running of Gime Touré caused a few problems, though he fired into the side netting from one decent move and Holmes had to gather his header on the line before Nicky Featherstone wasted another shot.
Fleet were reduced to 10 men for the closing minutes as Josh Payne was off getting treatment and in that time Molyneux buried another effort into the stands behind. But Hartlepool should really have been ahead on the stroke of half-time when Molyneux again was first to Gavan Holohan’s cross and his touch was surely going in but for teammate Aidan Keena getting in the way.
Following the restart, Hartlepool were back on the attack and Shelton’s pacy cross forced Jamie Grimes to nick it behind.
Fleet won their first corner on 52 minutes before Jack King rose well for a header on the Hartlepool goal, McGlashan trying to scoop the ball over in the six-yard box. But those were moments of relief in between the home side pressing for a winner that would take them into the play-offs.
But still they continued to be wasteful with the chances that came their way. Keena was the next guilty party, his shot very well blocked by Holmes from a Donaldson delivery that was begging to be snapped up.
The visitors had to summon every energy and resistance as Pools upped their game again from the hour mark, Holmes holding on to a Molyneux effort to take the sting out of another attack.
Touré’s header on 69 minutes was another weak one that Holmes gathered from a dangerous position but Hartlepool were soon made to pay for their profligacy.
Out of the blue on 76 minutes, Touré committed a clumsy challenge on Umerah and the referee pointed to the spot.
With a delay of two to three minutes while the officials spoke to both benches, Ugwu – the calmest man on the pitch – shuffled his way to the spot and despatched the penalty to give Fleet the lead.
Pools goalkeeper Ben Killip had to get down to Timlin’s effort a minute later and Featherstone beat Umerah to the rebound before a disjointed conclusion to the game saw nine minutes added. Fleet forced a couple of corners, Hartlepool fired a free-kick low through the wall and Donaldson rifled one over Holmes’s bar but the interminably long climax finally came to an end to give the Fleet a precious three points in their fight to move up the league table.
EUFC: Holmes, Wilson, King, Grimes, Ekpiteta, McGlashan, Payne (Obileye 74), Timlin, Egan, Ugwu, Umerah (Adeloye 86). Subs: Palmer, Goddard, Achuba
HUFC: Killip, Liddle, Odusina, Kitching, Featherstone, Donaldson, Shelton (Harker 80), Holohan (Hawkes 85), Molyneux, Toure, Keena. Subs: Beeney, Richardson, Mafuta.