FC Halifax Town 1-2 Hartlepool

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Matty Brown and Matty Kosylo were both sent-off as nine-man FC Halifax Town lost 2-1 at home to Hartlepool.

The contest was set-up for an intriguing second-half, but referee Daniel Middleton took centre stage with some highly contentious decisions as he dealt Town a double blow of sending off Brown - apparently for an alleged stamp - and awarding Pool a penalty shortly after half-time.

The dismissal of Kosylo was perhaps less debatable after a robust challenge near the halfway line to earn him his second booking.

But Middleton’s decisions changed the complexion of the game irrevocably, and, as well as plenty of other examples dotted throughout the match, left Town fans bemused at the official’s performance.

Hartlepool had been the better side in the first-half, but there had been enough evidence to suggest Town will have fancied their chances of a win before two red cards in four minutes helped consign The Shaymen to their first home defeat of the season thanks to goals from Liam Noble and Nicky Featherstone.

Jacob Hanson raised late hopes of what would have been a thrilling comeback as Town commendably hit back, despite the circumstances.

Hartlepool was probably one of the last teams Town would have chosen to play on the back of their poor showing at Maidenhead, with Matthew Bates’ side on the fringes of the play-offs having won five and drawn two of their last seven.

And it was nearly the worst possible start for Town when the excellent Noble saw a dipping shot crash back off the bar from 25 yards amidst an impressive start for Hartlepool.

The visitors came into the match with only one defeat all season, and played with confidence, passing the ball well, offering good movement and an intention to attack.

Noble went close again with a free-kick from a similar distance that was arcing towards the top corner, while striker Nico Muir turned and shot over from inside the box.

Halifax weren’t offering much resistance to Hartlepool’s attacks, and were a little too passive and comfortable to play against.

The Shaymen did get to grips with Pool eventually though, and offered a threat themselves, with Jonathan Edwards - one of three changes along with Ryan Sellers and Simon Lenighan - seeing a prod towards goal turned behind by Scott Loach from a cross by Jordan Preston, who was making inroads on the right.

Edwards and Dayle Southwell had got no scraps against experienced Pools skipper Andrew Davies, who along with Noble, were the stand-out players.

Hartlepool’s three at the back meant there was little space for Town to exploit, while at the other end, some of Halifax’s defending had to be fairly desperate at times as they got stretched, but the hosts threw themselves in-front of shots with commitment, exemplified by the tigerish Sellers.

Despite seeing less of the ball and not showing as much finesse as Hartlepool had, Town could have gone in ahead at the break when Preston cut inside on his left foot and smashed the ball towards the bottom left corner only for Loach to sprawl to his right and tip it away.

There were other sniffs of a chance for Town, especially when Edwards should have cut the ball back to the unmarked Preston rather than offering a shot, which was blocked.

Yes, Hartlepool had enjoyed more of the ball, and Town had to play more on the counter, but The Shaymen were competing much better than they did a week ago, against one of the form teams in the division.

But the game completely changed a few minutes into the second-half when referee Middleton sent-off Brown, who had earlier been booked for dissent while arguing a strong tackle on Sellers should have resulted in a free-kick, and awarded Hartlepool a penalty - both controversial decisions and both leaving most, if not all, inside The Shay, mystified as to why.

The two big decisions rubbed salt into the wound for Town, who will have felt harshly treated by Middleton, who moments earlier, had not given a foul for a budge by Davies on Kosylo, only to award Hartlepool a free-kick seconds later for a soft-looking push.

From that free-kick came the penalty, after Peter Kioso had met it with a diving header four yards out that was straight at Johnson.

There was barely time to digest what had just happened when Kosylo was shown a second yellow for a tackle in the middle of the pitch.

Cries of “cheat, cheat, cheat” and “you don’t know what you’re doing” followed from the Town fans, with Jamie Fullarton protesting to the fourth official amid the noise and confusion.

Even after all that, Town nearly drew level when Davies’ header from James Berrett’s cross almost dropped in on its way behind.

But, with the game now transformed into something akin to an attack v defence training session, Hartlepool made their advantage count when Featherstone arrowed a superb shot into the top corner after cutting in on his left-foot on the edge of the area.

But Town didn’t crumble, responding in spirited fashion and launching the odd attack.

The biggest cheer of the afternoon was reserved for the booking of Kioso with 15 minutes left, until Hanson produced a calm finish to set-up a dramatic climax when he raced onto Preston’s pass after the Town man had run from one box to another in lung-busting style.

Halifax: Johnson, Hanson, Clarke, Brown, Sellers, Berrett, Lenighan, Preston, Southwell (Maher 52), Kosylo, Edwards (Odelusi 71). Subs: Rowley, King, McLeod.

Scorer: Hanson (89)

Shots on target: 3

Shots off target: 2

Corners: 5

Hartlepool: Loach, Magnay, Davies (Richardson 69), Anderson, Kioso, Featherstone, Noble, McLaughlin, Kitching, Muir (Hawkes 79), James (Dinanga 79). Subs: Newton, Woods.

Scorers: Noble (51), Featherstone (62)

Shots on target: 6

Shots off target: 12

Corners: 7

Attendance: 2,360

Referee: Daniel Middleton

Town man of the match: Jacob Hanson