Danny Hylton's 13th goal of the season earned United a point at Hartlepool this afternoon as they recovered after conceding a Joe Ironside opener.
As expected, under the watchful eye of new boss Ronnie Moore in his first game, Hartlepool started at a fierce tempo and United needed to concentrate on their defensive duties in the first few minutes.
Striker John Campbell looked assured on his debut and settled quickly after a couple of early touches. Campbell, Wes Burns and Andy Whing were the three changes to the team beaten at Tranmere in the FA Cup in the previous game, with Whing’s battling qualities to the fore as the U’s were put under early pressure by ‘Pool.
The home side had clearly done their homework and gave the Yellows no time on the ball whatsoever. With veteran Marlon Harwood and Ironside as their strike duo they also had a physical presence and the U’s had to deal with a succession of corners and long throws. They did so comfortably enough, with Jake Wright and Johnny Mullins their usual stubborn selves until Mullins turned an ankle just before the half hour and was replaced by Chey Dunkley – the second United player to make his debut.
Dunkley did well, tall and powerful alongside the excellent Wright, although Ryan Clarke had to deal with a 25-yard effort from Michael Woods that was straight at the United keeper, who made the best save of the half on 42 to charge from his line and parry a Harewood shot away. However, United had not tested home keeper Scott Flinders in the opening period other than a Hylton header on 37 and a shot from the same player on 43 that both went straight at Flinders.
The U’s started the second half on top and sent in two dangerous crosses that just didn’t find their man but on 53 were undone just as they had quietened the home crowd. It wasn’t a pretty goal, just a long ball through the middle that set Ironside off on a race with Dunkley. The striker got there first and his shot was low and hard and past Clarke in a flash to make it 1-0.
United needed to show a bit of character and almost hit back immediately as Hylton was denied by Flinders’ swift advance from his line on 56 and Rose smashed a fine effort just wide after the hour before Hylton finally found a way to draw the U’s level. Holmes-Dennis, pushed further forward with Jon Meades on behind him at left back, found space and crossed low from the left. Hylton had worked the space well and his left-footed effort from eight yards was beyond Flinders before the keeper could move. Hylton’s 13th of the season and reward for his tireless running once again.
Hartlepool have found it hard to hold on to a lead this season and you could sense the home fans becoming edgy after being pegged back once again at home. Collins and the outstanding Rose fired shots too high as the Yellows pressed forward, Dunkley was an inch away from a Riley cross on 87 and United had done enough to win it, although they were grateful to Clarke for a fine save on 89 to deny former United loanee Jon Franks, whose shot was sneaking inside the right-hand post until Clarke got a hand to it at full stretch.
This was a point earned the hard way against a side looking to impress their new boss in his first game. It wasn't perhaps a vintage performance but it was gritty and determined and keeps United ticking along on a five-game unbeaten league run going into the Christmas games.
See you on Boxing Day when the U's are at home to Shrewsbury Town.
Report by Chris Williams, Pictures Darrell Fisher, Stats by OPTA
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