County’s second home match within four days against fellow promotion chasers saw the Hatters share the points with second-placed Hartlepool.
Paddy Madden, with his first County goal, secured the draw after ‘Pools’ had taken an early second-half lead through Irish midfielder Gavin Holohan.
County took to the field showing two changes from the line-up that had started against Eastleigh at Edgeley Park in midweek – with Alex Reid being recalled and Blackpool loanee Nathan Shaw earning his full debut, in place of Harry Cardwell and Tom Walker who were both named among the substitutes. For the visitors, one-time Hatter Rhys Oates was ruled out by injury from coming back to haunt his former club.
Each side earned a corner within the opening three minutes, although another 25 were to pass before a sign of serious action in either final third, with Reid going to ground in the visitors’ box under a challenge by Lewis Cass – only for another Lewis, Referee Smith, to wave play on.
With eight minutes of the half remaining, a foul against Elliot Newby on the edge of Hartlepool’s ‘D’ handed County a set-piece opportunity – but Madden’s free-kick was blocked by the wall. And Reid’s low shot on the turn a few minutes later was comfortably smothered by visiting goalkeeper Ben Killip.
At the other end, Ben Hinchliffe made equally routine saves from Mark Shelton – who had connected with Luke Armstrong’s cross from the right – and from Luke Molyneux.
In a half that had seen chances – and talking points – at a premium, mention could be (and, with a crowd in attendance, doubtless would have been) made of the original match-ball which, around the mid-point, had achieved that rare feat of getting itself stuck on the Pop Side roof.
HALF-TIME: County 0, Hartlepool 0.
The Hatters introduced Macauley Southam-Hales for Shaw upon the resumption – but within two minutes, they were trailing as Holohan connected with a Cass cross from the right, and his header took a bounce before beating Hinchliffe and finding the top-right corner of the net.
Shelton fired wide of the left post, as Pools continued to press. And Ryan Croasdale did well to clear, after a corner from the visitors was headed on by Gary Liddle and found Ryan Johnson with the ball at his feet less than a yard from goal.
Southam-Hales went close to equalising for County after the hour-mark, but his close-range header, from Newby’s cross on the left, was cleanly caught by Killip. And Newby himself twice tested the visiting ‘keeper with well-struck shots – on the first occasion, after dispossessing captain Nicky Featherstone.
A dozen minutes from time, Madden struck with deadly effect to get the Hatters back on terms – volleying home from six yards after a throw-in from the right by Southam-Hales had been deflected into his path.
Cardwell headed high and wide in added time after connecting with a free-kick from the left by fellow Chorley loanee Newby – although, in truth, the end-result of this tight affair between two old Football League rivals was a fair one.
Oh – and that ball on the roof of the Pop Side is still up there…
FULL-TIME: County 1 (Madden, 78), Hartlepool 1 (Holohan, 47).
Team (4-4-2): Hinchliffe; Minihan (Stretton, 74), Keane, Palmer (Capt.), J. Jennings; Newby, Croasdale, Collar, Shaw (Southam-Hales, 46); Madden, Reid (Cardwell, 65).
Unused Subs: Barnes, Walker.
Man of the Match: Newby.
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.