BURTON Albion extended their unbeaten run to seven matches with a draw at a blustery Hartlepool United – but missed chances to win the game.
The Brewers again looked solid at Victoria Park and will be kicking themselves at not winning after Phil Edwards gave them an early lead.
Matty Palmer had a good chance, while Billy Kee was a whisker away from making it 2-0 and becoming Albion’s outright top scorer in the Football League.
But a minor slip at the back allowed Pool substitute Bradley Walker to smash home a cracker from the edge of the box with his first touch after coming on in the second half.
Hartlepool were also aggrieved after Zander Diamond hacked Andy Monkhouse’s header off the line, with the hosts convinced the ball had gone in.
Pool also thought they should have had a foul in the build-up to Edwards’ opener – but referee Richard Clark had an excellent view of the incident and waved play on.
It was a controlled performance from Albion at a ground where Colin Cooper’s men have not lost since September. They are no pushovers.
The Brewers were largely solid, even after losing Damien McCrory – their last ever-present this season – to injury at half-time, forcing a major reshuffle at the back.
A draw away from home at the start of the festive programme of fixtures represents a decent return for Gary Rowett’s hard-working side and keeps them ticking over in fifth spot in the League Two table.
The manager made three changes following the 1-0 FA Cup replay win over Fleetwood on Tuesday night.
Lee Bell (hamstring) and Alex MacDonald (virus) were not risked and were replaced by Palmer and Jimmy Phillips respectively.
The other change saw Adam McGurk return up front in place of Rene Howe, who dropped to the bench ahead of the frantic run of fixtures coming up.
Pool had some early pressure and Shane Cansdell-Sherriff had to be alert to head clear Simon Walton’s early free kick.
At the other end, a free kick from McGurk was deflected away for a corner.
On 10 minutes, Albion again threatened from a set piece, with Robbie Weir heading Chris Hussey’s delivery back in for Cansdell-Sherriff, who flicked just over from close range.
Albion had looked threatening and they took the lead on 17 minutes – with a touch of controversy in the run-up to Edwards’ excellent, powerful finish.
A Burton corner was cleared and Palmer put young striker Luke James under pressure near halfway before robbing the Pool man, who appealed for a push.
Mr Clark immediately waved play on as the hosts looked for a foul.
Weir swung an accurate ball forward to Edwards, who chested down in the box and turned Christian Burgess like a striker before blasting a low shot through Scott Flinders’ legs from 10 yards.
Hartlepool were incensed and took some time to regroup – and the Brewers should have extended their lead.
On 22 minutes they burst forward and Palmer played a one-two with Hussey, getting the ball back in space deep in the area. However, his low left-footed shot flew just wide across the face of goal.
After the half-hour Pool seemed to find their feet and put Albion under some pressure.
Edwards had to be very alert to get back and clear Monkhouse’s goalbound header as he got to James Poole’s cross ahead of Dean Lyness.
With half-time looming, Jack Compton twisted and turned in the box before Weir, who had endured a frustrating half, put in a cracking tackle to rob him. Seconds later, Compton again got in space around the edge of the box but although his shot was powerful, it flew inches too high.
Albion got to the break 1-0 up but suffered a blow as McCrory went off with a tight hamstring.
Diamond came on and went to right-back, with Edwards, who was outstanding, switching to the left.
Burton made light of the disruption and Kee almost made it 2-0 within five minutes of the restart.
Ian Sharps hit an accurate long ball for the striker, who got up and beat Jack Baldwin in the air before setting off like a greyhound after his own header.
He got there a split second ahead of Burgess and Flinders, who had raced off his line, and managed to fire in a shot which flew narrowly over the gaping net from the D.
Soon afterwards, McGurk played Kee in but his shot was blocked by Flinders before he put the rebound wide in a crowded area.
On 64 minutes, Monkhouse got to Poole’s centre and powered a header which Lyness got a hand to. But the ball flew up and looked like it was dropping in until Diamond athletically got a boot around the ball and cleared.
Monkhouse appealed for the goal, but Mr Clark and his assistant were not interested.
Four minutes later, though, Pool were level and there was no doubt about the ball crossing the line this time.
Walker had just come off the bench and with his first touch he crashed a volley from the edge of the area past a helpless Lyness and into the top corner.
It was an avoidable goal after Albion had failed to effectively clear a high ball forward.
On 70 minutes, the Monkey Hangers went looking for a winner but Baldwin headed James’ cross wide.
James then fired wildly wide after getting the better of an isolated Sharps outside the area.
With Howe on and marauding up front and Adam Reed getting a rare chance to impress, Burton threatened in the closing stages without really creating anything.
Importantly, neither did Hartlepool and Albion got back down the A1 with another point banked as the festive season gets under way.