Hartlepool United's play-off ambitions took a big knock last night, as they went down at Oxford United.
Victory for Pool would have closed the gap on the top seven and brought sixth-placed Oxford right in sight.
Instead they now sit ten points behind the Us with eight games remaining ahead of today’s full League Two programme.
And they were down to ten men in the closing stages, with Simon Walton sent off – he now faces two games out.
It was a somewhat tame opening, neither side seemed willing to take control.
But for the Us, they should have gone in front on 13 minutes. Sean Rigg was a tricky opponent throughout and his low ball across the area landed at the feet of James Constable, who swiped at the ball but missed his kick.
Only a well-timed sliding tackle from the covering Walton halted the progress of Connolly in the area.
Pool’s first opening came on 16 minutes. Jack Compton’s slide-rule pass played in Luke James and, taking his shot early when he had more time to compose himself, the striker dragged his shot well wide. Scott Flinders stood up at his near post to block a goalbound Rigg shot which crept over the line for a corner.
But it was Pool who soon took control of the corners. They won five in quick succession, and the closest they came to scoring was when defender Christian Burgess had a header tipped over the bar by keeper Ryan Clarke.
Right on half-time Pool almost took the lead, Clarke diving to keep out a dipping and teasing Barmby shot from 20 yards.
James almost had a chance of an opener shortly after the restart, when defender Jake Wright left a header short of keeper Clarke, who managed to recover and hack away with James unaware of where the ball was going.
But the Us should have had a penalty shortly after when Walton felled Rigg in the area, but somehow referee Andy Davies played on.
A long-range free-kick from Josh Ruffels stung the hands of Flinders, who was well positioned to keep it out.
Walton had already had one caution for a trip on Rigg which meant a two-game suspension for collecting ten bookings. And it wasn’t long before he got his second yellow of the night, again for a clear trip on Rigg. Down to ten men, Pool had to reorganise already and they were soon trailing.
A free-kick on the edge of the area was floated in and striker David Connolly stooped to head in from six yards.
Antony Sweeney came on to offer something else in midfield, but Colin Cooper then introduced more attackers in James Poole and Jon Franks.
They were almost rewarded with an injury time leveller, when Marlon Harewood teed up James and his first-time shot was deflected wide by some desperate defending from Andy Whing.
And then James had another snap shot dragged wide, before substitute Sweeney planted a header into keeper Clarke.