RELEGATED Hartlepool United were denied an end-of-season victory in the final minute at Crawley Town today.
Leading 2-1 thanks to an Andy Monkhouse double which had turned the game around following Jamie Proctor’s opener, Proctor salvaged a point for the hosts in the 90th minute.
The result means Pools – backed by nearly 150 fans dressed as penguins – sign off from their League One relegation campaign having slipped to second bottom spot.
The first half of the season finale was short on chances and quality, with the best of the action confined to the stands and those fancy dress-clad followers.
On the pitch, it wasn’t until the 19th minute that the sedate start was sparked into life.
Monkhouse stole possession on halfway before driving forward and blazing over the crossbar from 20 yards.
Ritchie Humphreys went on the charge from a similar position soon after but his defence-splitting roll was miscontrolled by Darren Holden and the chance was gone.
At the other end, Proctor was denied by Sam Collins on the goal-line, the Pools defender providing a last-ditch clearance after the midfielder had hooked on target from amid a crowd of bodies.
Crawley wideman Mike Jones then cracked the post when taking aim from 20 yards.
Monkhouse was proving Pools’ chief threat and only the fingertips of Paul Jones came between him and a stunning strike on 50 minutes, the keeper brushing over the bar after the midfielder had leathered on target from 25 yards.
Simon Walton then let fly from an even greater distance when dispatching a sweet volley which was gathered at the second attempt by Jones.
And it was soon the turn of Neil Austin to chance his luck from outside the penalty area but, again, Jones was equal to the well-struck effort.
But the hosts found the breakthrough goal on 70 minutes thanks to their first incisive entry into the opposition danger zone.
Josh Simpson raced on to Billy Clarke’s throughball before squaring for Proctor who was left with the simple task of turning home from just three yards out.
It should have been two just moments later when, from an identical forward move, Jones lashed wide from eight yards out.
And the Reds paid the price for that miss when Pools broke upfield and Luke James centred for Monkhouse to send a looping header beyond a helpless Jones.
The 32-year-old had his second four minutes later when, with James again the provider, he steered a first-time volley over Jones from the edge of the area.
Clarke came within a whisker of restoring parity with a stinging strike which landed on the base of the post on 82 minutes.
But Richie Barker’s men stole their point at the death when Proctor’s 12-yard stab was deflected into the bottom corner off an unfortunate Peter Hartley.