Red-hot Lee Trundle scored twice in four second-half minutes as Swansea City battled to a 2-2 draw at Hartlepool United. Trundle, who has now scored in six consecutive matches, netted with a rare header and then followed up after his penalty had been saved.
After a largely uninspiring performance, Kenny Jackett’s men were suddenly leading 2-1 and heading for a fifth straight victory.
But the hosts fought back to gain a well-deserved share of the spoils when Tony Sweeney headed home 14 minutes from the end.
Jackett had kept faith with the same team which started the 3-1 win at MK Dons in midweek, resisting the temptation to recall Kevin Austin.
The former Bristol Rovers defender, such a steady influence since crossing the Severn Bridge 15 months ago, might have expected an instant return to the side after sitting out at the National Hockey Stadium because of suspension.
But Alan Tate was rewarded for his encouraging start to the campaign with a starting berth on the ground where he finished up in goal two and a half years ago.
That day, when Roger Freestone hobbled off injured, Brian Flynn’s Swansea team were beaten 4-0 as they struggled through the ultimately successful battle against relegation to the Conference.
The previous season Nick Cusack’s side made the long trek home from the North East on the back of a 7-1 thrashing, so there was plenty of room for improvement this afternoon.
Bayo Akinfenwa, Leon Britton, Kris O’Leary, Owain Tudur Jones and Adrian Forbes were all missing on the plane from Cardiff, as was surprise absentee Ijah Anderson.
But Hartlepool, without a home league win this season before today, boast a more devastating casualty list just now.
The key absentees were Adam Boyd and Joel Porter, contributors of 45 goals between them last season as Pools went away all the way to the Millennium Stadium before missing out on a place in the Championship at the final hurdle.
Former League of Wales striker Eifion Williams was another to miss out through injury, and yet ex-Swansea target Chris Llewellyn could not even make the bench.
Despite a couple of shots from Kevin McLeod, it was the home side’s rejigged forward line seeing most of the action early on.
A 20-yard effort from Michael Maidens deflected narrowly wide of the post, then the home fans were screaming for a penalty as Michael Nelson’s volley appeared to strike Izzy Iriekpen’s arm.
Referee Tony Leake waved away the appeals, but Swansea’s awkward opening continued when Paul Connor, landing awkwardly after rising for a defensive header, limped off with an ankle problem.
Lee Thorpe, a peripheral figure so far this season, arrived from the bench after just 16 minutes.
Hartlepool continued to press, though, and took the lead when Roberto Martinez tripped Thomas Butler 25 yards from goal.
The free-kick was rolled to Ritchie HUMPHREYS, scorer of a hat-trick on Swansea’s last visit to these parts, and the former Sheffield Wednesday player drilled home from distance.
Willy Gueret looked disappointed with himself, perhaps because he appeared to get across to the shot only to help it into the net.
Swansea were being harried and hassled by a Pools outfit desperate to put on a show for their own fans.
There was none of the flowing football that Jackett’s men have produced in recent weeks, and none of the goal threat.
Only in the closing minutes of the first period did they manage to keep the ball for any length of time, and straightaway they carved an opening.
Fed by Martinez, Lee Trundle turned his defender smartly but sent a tame right-foot shot straight at the goalkeeper.
At the other end, Mark Tinkler struck a 20-yarder more sweetly but Gueret watched gratefully as the ball rolled past the post.
Swansea’s best opening of the first period arrived in stoppage time, but Trundle, again having to use his weaker foot, skewed over the top after combining with Andy Robinson.
Half-time: Hartlepool 1, Swansea City 0
No doubt there were a few stern words in the away dressing room at the interval, but still Swansea were struggling to make their mark on the game early in the second half.
Less than 10 minutes into it, in fact, Hartlepool might have finished them off.
Jon Daly broke the visitors’ offside trap to meet Mark Tinkler’s lofted through ball. With only Gueret to beat, however, the former Stockport striker volleyed hopelessly wide.
How Swansea would make him pay.
There had been little sign that it was coming, but two minutes after Daly’s miss Swansea finally managed to construct a move of some note.
Trundle was involved early on, feeding the impressive Tate in space on the right.
His deep cross was nodded back into the danger area by Thorpe. Robinson, turning awkwardly, miscued a shot straight onto TRUNDLE’S head and he did the rest from close range.
If they were surprised to be level, 250 travelling fans were amazed to be ahead four minutes later.
This time McLeod flicked a long ball into Trundle’s path and the former Wrexham man was hauled down by on-loan Sunderland defender Neill Collins.
Trundle, scorer of two penalties this season but guilty of a miss on the opening day, saw this spot-kick superbly saved by Dimi Konstantopoulos.
But TRUNDLE, who as ever had gone for the keeper’s bottom left corner, got lucky.
The ball bounced back into his path, and he squeezed a right-foot shot home from a couple of yards.
Hartlepool would not lie down, though, and after efforts from substitute David Foley and Michael Nelson, the equaliser came.
Young winger Michael Maidens was the provider, crossing sweetly for midfielder Tony SWEENEY to head smartly into Gueret’s far corner.
Now Martin Scott’s team were the favourites for the points, but Swansea stood firm.
Report by THE SPORTING