Report by John Edwards
Picture by Jonathan Moore
Altrincham 2 Hartlepool United 2
Altrincham had to settle for a point for the sixth time in 10 games so far this season after being pegged back by a second-half equaliser on a night of high winds and high-quality goals at The J.Davidson Stadium.
After going behind against the run of play early on, Alty stormed back to end a dominant first-half display with a deserved 2-1 lead, as Isaac Marriott capitalised on brilliant work from Chris Conn-Clarke and Lewis Baines fired home a left-foot volley from close range.
But Hartlepool had the lion's share of possession in the second half and made it count in the 77th minute when substitute Joe Grey was played through to drill a point-saver past Ethan Ross just quarter-of-an-hour after going on.
It might have been worse but for Ross performing heroics with an outstanding double save to deny the visitors a stoppage-time winner that would have been harsh in the extreme on a lively Robins side.
Hartlepool started the evening in sixth position and have designs on reclaiming their Football League place at the first attempt, following relegation from League Two at the end of last season, but it still felt like one that got away for Alty, given the clear-cut chances their bright approach play carved out.
Conn-Clarke was the creative spark who kept Alty on the front foot for much of the opening half, finding space time and again in dangerous areas and exploiting it often as not with his clever movement, speed off the mark and change of direction.
That's some combination for a forward at Vanarama National League level, and it presented him with an opening in only the 11th minute as he worked the ball on to his left foot on the right of the six-yard area only to drag his shot narrowly wide.
It was all Alty in the early stages, and they went close in the 12th minute when Joey Jones met a deep right-wing corner from Eddy Jones with a looping header that was cleared off the line by a defender's straining forehead, just as it looked like dropping under the bar.
They found themselves trailing in the 15th minute, though, when a precise through ball gave Ollie Finney the chance to advance on goal and measure a chip expertly over Ross and into the net.
Hartlepool could count themselves fortunate not to surrender their lead in the 18th minute when Conn-Clarke burst through towards the right of the area but passed up a shooting opportunity in favour of rolling the ball back to Marriott, who slipped on the sodden surface as he rushed to meet it.
It was to prove only a temporary reprieve, as Conn-Clarke skipped past the challenge of Kieran Burton and cut in before playing a ball that was diverted out towards the penalty spot, where Marriott made it his own with typical tenacity to drive a rising shot into the roof of the net for a 23rd-minute equaliser.
The conditions could hardly have been more testing, with a swirling wind and heavy rain testing both teams, but Alty continued to make light of it as they deservedly went ahead in first-half added time.
When a free-kick from the left was only half-cleared, it was superbly hooked back in towards the right of the six-yard box, where Baines stretched to control it before despatching a left-foot volley past Pools keeper Peter Jameson.
Hartlepool's players were back on the pitch ready for the second half a good two or three minutes early, and if that was a sign of intent, they soon delivered on it, as they began to dominate possession.
Even so, while Alty had defending to do, chances continued to materialise at the other end of the pitch, with Elliot Osborne forcing a diving save from Jameson and Justin Amaluzor testing the former York City keeper just seconds after going on as a 67th-minute substitute.
Baines was proving a rock as one of three Alty central defenders, and it was his head that crucially diverted a goalbound Charlie Seaman free-kick from a dangerous position over the bar and behind for a corner in the 70th minute.
Former FC Halifax Town striker Mani Dieseruvwe was proving a handful with a couple of efforts that kept Ross on his toes, but it was his ability to spot a pass that undid the Robins in the 77th minute as he slid a brilliant ball through to Grey for Hartlepool's equaliser.
Amaluzor fired narrowly wide in the 89th minute, and Alty went so close to a winner two minutes into added time when the Robins substitute was picked out by fellow-sub Justin Donawa only for his close-range shot to be blocked by a defender when a goal looked certain.
Hartlepool might have won it themselves a minute later, but for Ross denying them at the double, and they will argue that their territorial advantage in the second half entitled them to take a point back with them to the North-East.
Even so, Alty will be heartened by the number of clear scoring opportunities they created and will be striving to replicate that, but with more to show for them, when Ebbsfleet United visit The J.Davidson Stadium on Saturday afternoon.
Altrincham - Ross; Cooper, Roscoe, Baines; Banks (Donawa 72), Osborne, Joey Jones, Marriott, E.Jones; Conn-Clarke, Angus (Amaluzor 67). Subs unused- Gould, Burroughs, T.Jones.
Booked - Marriott, Osborne.
Attendance - 1,421 (214 away).