THERE were a few nervous glances as Andy Cook perched himself precariously on the edge of the press box doing the post-match media interview.

Nothing can happen to City’s scoring tour de force if this season is still to reach the happy ending that we all crave.

Irresistible in front of goal and irreplaceable in a team that can’t hit the net without him.

Cook’s tally had just risen by another couple to take him to 25 in all competitions.

With 22 in the league, he has stretched his advantage as the division’s top marksman - and is just five behind Dean Windass when he won the League One golden boot 18 years ago.

The rest of the City squad? They’ve mustered just one more league goal than Cook between the lot of them.

Hence the understandable health and safety paranoia about the striker’s seating arrangement as he spoke to the papers.

He laughingly shrugged off the suggestions of being League Two’s answer to Erling Haaland. The obvious difference, of course, is that other Man City players chip in as well.

City remain a one-man band when it comes to the scoresheet.

Contrast Cook’s Midas touch with the fortunes of strike partner Dara Costelloe.

The Burnley young buck makes some decent runs and certainly helps create space for the red-hot hitman.

He also gets in all the right positions to score himself. But that elusive first goal in senior football isn’t happening.

Three times, Costelloe saw glory beckon - and on each occasion, he failed to even hit the target.

An early effort created by Cook was snatched at and swished wide.

Two more in the second half, both unmarked at the far post, went begging past the post and into the side-netting. At which point, the Irishman looked as if he wanted the earth to swallow him up.

It’s a tough learning curve for a young talent who is probably trying too hard to force that goal.

Costelloe was not the only guilty party on an afternoon when Mark Hughes estimated the score could have finished 6-3.

Substitute Scott Banks dumped a defender on his backside before picking out Cook for the precise volley that drew City level for a second time.

The Scot then twice had the chance to be a late hero - seeing two huge opportunities foiled by keeper Jakub Stolarczyk when the shots just needed a bit more conviction.

It was that sort of afternoon for an understandably-agitated crowd, who stuck with their team through a spirited second-half effort but trailed away in no doubt that this was a big chance gone begging.

A point at home to the second-from-bottom side with 10 games to go hardly screams promotion.

Those around them in the table kicking off later will have no doubt smiled at City’s third stalemate in a row.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Harry Lewis is furious after Hartlepool's second goalHarry Lewis is furious after Hartlepool's second goal (Image: Thomas Gadd)

The age-old inability to put struggling teams to the sword raised its head once more two months on from watching basement dwellers Rochdale come from behind for a Valley Parade victory.

Results elsewhere were not too painful. Thanks to Mansfield’s stoppage-time leveller at Stockport, Northampton were the only winners above City.

Carlisle and Stevenage, the real biggie of the day, obligingly finished in a goalless draw.

But while little ground was lost, that also served to underline the supposed open-goal that was spurned at Valley Parade.

This was a real chance to eat into that gap to the automatic promotion places, especially with Carlisle next up on the agenda.

Once more, though, City sold their home support short with an 11th failure to win in 18 attempts. Another draw watered down the “points gained” on the road at Walsall and Newport.

The character to twice recover cannot be knocked but they left themselves too much to do against opponents who were prepared to have a go.

That’s a novelty in itself compared with the usual bus-parking exercise carried out by visiting teams content to just sit there and spoil.

With Callum Cooke clearly keen to prove a point after Hughes showed him the Valley Parade door last summer, Hartlepool came to play.

City’s increasing sloppiness after a bright start had fizzled out encouraged them to grow bolder in a first half that left the bulk of the lunchtime audience with a nasty dose of indigestion.

Bradford Telegraph and Argus: Andy Cook holds his head following a first-half missAndy Cook holds his head following a first-half miss (Image: Thomas Gadd)

Confirmation that Hughes had stuck with the same starting line-up for a sixth straight time did not go down too well on social media.

But those grumbles would have quickly blown away had either Costelloe or Cook struck in the first 10 minutes.

The bookies’ ridiculously short odds on a home win appeared justified in the one-sided early skirmishes.

But after Cook shot inches past the post just after the half hour, it was Hartlepool who showed City how it should be done.

And, of course, it had to be Cooke - relishing his Valley Parade return as much as Richard O’Donnell and Niall Canavan have done recently.

The only difference was that Cooke did not head back to the north-east with all three points. But not for want of trying on the midfielder’s part as he emphatically dispatched the set-up from Connor Jennings to drive past Harry Lewis from 18 yards.

It was the first time that Cooke had scored at Valley Parade in front of a crowd. His previous three home goals with the Bantams all came during the Covid campaign behind closed doors.

Booed off at half-time, City came back out fighting and were level within four minutes of the restart.

Richie Smallwood’s free-kick was right on the button and Cook lost his marker to do what he does and apply the finish with the deftest of headers.

Costelloe then twice fluffed his lines from close range, denying Brad Halliday the assist on each occasion.

Those misses became even more costly when Hartlepool struck again thanks to a mish-mash of City errors in their own penalty area.

Adam Clayton had his pocket picked by Mo Sylla before Jamie Sterry’s backheel propelled the ball to the feet of Dan Kemp.

The midfielder, who had beaten Cook to the award for League Two’s player of the month earlier in the week, still had work to do.

But the centre halves cleared the way for him, Matty Platt charging in and overcommitting himself while Sam Stubbs went to ground too early.

The path to goal open, Kemp screwed a low shot beyond Lewis into the bottom corner.

Hughes, who had been about to make a change, went to his bench and the arrival of Banks reaped an instant reward as Cook superbly buried his cross.

Hartlepool’s hopes of a first win in eight games were dashed - and they should have left with nothing had Banks demonstrated the same precision as his number nine.

But then that’s the problem. If it’s not Cook, then more often than not it doesn’t happen.

Just keep everything crossed that this incredible run of form keeps going for plenty of games yet.