John Askey must be left wondering what he has to do to turn around Hartlepool’s fortunes after forgotten man Jake Hastie looked to have handed Pools what seemed an unlikely win when scoring in the 90th minute.
Emmanuel Dieseruvwe had initially given Pools the lead inside six minutes when firing in his 12th goal of the season before Billy Clifford levelled the scores soon after.
And the away side came from behind for a second time when Samuel was on hand to poke in from close range deep into stoppage time to give Ebbsfleet what was a deserved share of the spoils.
It’s never dull at Hartlepool, even without a fixture over the course of the last fortnight.
For as much as Askey and his side needed to step away from the rigmarole of what is threatening to be a hugely disappointing campaign, there remained plenty of goings on at the Suit Direct Stadium with regards to the future of the club with chairman Raj Singh informing the Hartlepool United Supporters Trust recently that he only intends to fund the club ‘in the short-term’ as he looks to progress with his exit strategy having put the club up for sale at the end of last season.
With that brings its own uncertainty and concern, for however long the ‘short-term’ period is, but in the here and now Askey was desperate for his side to show an upturn in their form after four consecutive defeats in all competitions which had seen Pools drop into the bottom half of the National League table as well get dumped out of the FA Cup.
It has seemed like no matter what Askey has tried with regards to his personnel in recent weeks, Hartlepool have been unable to find the winning formula they demonstrated during the opening month of the season.
Askey had two weeks back at the drawing board to consider how he would look to overcome an Ebbsfleet side who had won just one of their last 10 games and he did so with both changes in personnel and in system.
Mitch Hancox was handed a debut after arriving on a short-term loan from York City. Hancox is a player Askey knows well with the pair enjoying promotion success when working together at both Macclesfield Town and York – how Pools could do with some of that winning formula now.
Hancox was one of four changes from the defeat to Rochdale with Emmanuel Onariase, Terrell Agyemang and Chris Wreh all handed starts as Hartlepool’s revolving injury room door continued with Josh Umerah, Luke Hendrie, Charlie Seaman and Pete Jameson all heading in. Fortunately there were a couple heading out as Callum Cooke and Kieran Wallace were back on the bench.
And after a tentative opening five minutes, Askey got the reward he will have been hoping his two weeks of preparation would yield when Dieseruvwe opened the scoring.
Irrespective of what is happening in Hartlepool’s season, Dieseruvwe has been a superb piece of business as he continued his blistering start to life at the Suit Direct Stadium when finding a pocket of space some 25-yards from goal before taking aim and firing low in off the post for his 12th of the season.
You would think that would have been the perfect tonic to settle a fragile Pools side, and yet they would allow the old ‘you’re at your most vulnerable after scoring’ cliche to play out in full less than three minutes later as Ebbsfleet levelled.
Matthias Fanimo was able to advance down the right which drew in several Hartlepool players before pulling back towards the edge of the box where Clifford arrived in acres of space to place a fine effort into the bottom corner beyond Joel Dixon.
Agyemang might have quickly restored Hartlepool’s lead when picking up Wreh’s ball only for a heavy touch to deny the Middlesbrough loanee a shooting opportunity.
The game was already stretched but after a frantic start it was the visitors who adjusted the better for the rest of the half, with Dennis Kutrieb likely to have wondered how his side weren’t in front at the break.
Fanimo was able to glide from right to left across the edge of the Hartlepool area before sliding a ball into Greg Cundle who fizzed one at goal to bring a smart stop from Dixon.
Onariase had to be alert to deny Dominic Poleon who had met Luke O’Neill’s cross from the right before Dixon was in the right place to palm Fanimo’s effort away after the former West Ham United academy prospect found far too much space from Cundle’s cross from the left.
Askey’s change to a back four appeared to be causing more problems than solutions with Hartlepool looking disjointed and passive as Dixon was called into action again when holding Samuel’s effort after the striker was able to breeze inside from the left.
In the end Askey tore up his formation and reverted to a back five as Agyemang filled in at the right wing-back spot.
But Pools still had Dixon to thank for going in level at the break when pushing Craig Tanner’s low free kick wide of the post on the stroke of half-time.
Hartlepool reconvened for the second half still in a back five and remained that way even after the introduction of Cooke from the bench just before the hour when Joe Mattock was forced off with what appeared to be a head injury.
Cooke’s introduction brought an initial uplift from supporters before Pools, again, had Dixon to thank for keeping the scores level with two top saves.
Tanner’s ball into the box was cleared as far as Mustapha Olugunja who was able to dance his way through the penalty area before teeing up Samuel, unmarked on the angle of the six-yard box, who was denied by the feet of Dixon as Onariase then had to be on hand to turn away Cundle’s rebound through a crowded area.
Dixon’s work wasn’t done, however, as soon after Clifford was able to recycle an overhit cross on the left and ease by Zak Johnson and Agyemang before searching for the bottom corner only for Dixon to touch wide.
Askey turned to his bench once more with Scotsman Hastie brought in from the cold for his first appearance since early September but it remained the away side who seemed the more likely to find a winner.
And they had the chance to do just that when shifting it well from right to left through Olagunju who ushered it into the path of Cundle from close range but his effort was tame as Dixon gathered.
But it was an out-of-sorts Pools who, instead, looked to have snatched victory through the most unlikely of sources as forgotten man Hastie raced alongside Dieseruvwe in a two-against-one from halfway and was able to slide under under Mark Cousins to give Pools the lead only for Ebbsfleet to strike back in quick succession again when a free kick made its way to the back post for Olagunju to steer across the face of goal where Samuel was on hand to convert into an empty net.
Neither side could convert a late flurry of chances as Askey was left with yet more questions than answers.