It was so near, yet so far, for Pools

Mick Tatit - Hartlepool player.
Mick Tatit - Hartlepool player.
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Pools had everything to play for as the 1997-98 season kicked off - having played their way out of relegation trouble just weeks before.

Indeed, manager Mick Tait believed his players had what it took “to be the surprise package of the Third Division” after a final run of wins.

Stephen  Halliday - started his career at Pools.

Stephen Halliday - started his career at Pools.

But, although Pools came close to beating Exeter in their first match of the season on August 9, 1997, victory was snatched away at the last moment.

“Pools played with all the confidence in the world, until Exeter City netted an equaliser five minutes from time,” reported the Mail.

City had the first chance of the afternoon at St James’s Park, when Pools’ defence failed to cut out a long corner from the right.

But Exeter’s No. 11, Matt Hare, blazed over the goal - leaving Pools to settle in and “appear to be quite comfortable” in the opening stages.

Pools played with all the confidence in the world, until Exeter City netted an equaliser five minutes from time.

Hartlepool Mail

“Pools threatened for the first time in the 11th minute, when Steve Howard headed forward for Joe Allon - whose volley went just over the bar,” stated the Mail.

“Exeter then looked keen to press the self-destruct button, and almost presented Pools with the opening goal in the 14th minute.”

Indeed, City’s goalie Ashley Bayes played a “hospital pass” to Jon Richardson, which Allon moved to finish on the edge of the box - until tackled by a defender.

Exeter then responded when Steve Flack headed the ball into the path of Darren Rowbotham, but Glen Davies made a crucial interception to concede a corner.

Pools were next on the attack when Jon Cullen played a superb pass from the right, but Joe Allon could only make a half-connection with the shot.

A further surge then followed in the 25th minute - when Pools went agonisingly close to taking the lead thanks to a strong run by Cullen, whose shot was saved.

“From the corner Bayes had difficulty dealing with the high cross from Cullen, and Allon went near to forcing the ball home,” reported the Mail.

Pools tested Bayes yet again in the 29th minute, when left-back Richard Lucas blasted a shot at goal - but the City No.1 held the ball comfortably.

John Cullen, however, then waged a one-man war against Exeter until the 38th minute - when he finished a simple move with a great shot home.

“A confident Pools looked like claiming all three points after taking the 1-0 lead, but Exeter snatched a late equaliser to deny Pools what would have been a deserved opening day victory,” stated the Mail.