Luke Armstrong's close-range finish was enough to earn Hartlepool the three points despite our dominance at Meadow Lane.
The forward put his side ahead on 19 minutes and it proved to be an unassailable lead as several opportunities passed us by on a frustrating afternoon, with Ben Turner seeing red and Jimmy Knowles having a goal incorrectly chalked off late on.
Having seen our Boxing Day match against King's Lynn called off due to a Covid case in the opposition camp, Ardley reverted to the line-up which saw us earn an important victory over Stockport County in our previous league match. The only amendment came in midfield, where Tom Walker got the nod over the bench-bound Jim O'Brien.
Walker’s opposite winger, Enzio Boldewijn, got things started with a cross-shot which whistled a yard wide of the far post before Rhys Oates sent a header off-target at the other end.
It was proving to be an even start to the game and Gavan Holohan was the next man to have a go, shooting a yard or so over after Walker had nodded the ball into his path.
But the visitors didn’t have to wait much longer to have the ball in the net with what proved to be the decisive goal on 19 minutes, Oates beating Richard Brindley for pace in the left-hand channel and crossing the ball low into the middle for Armstrong to finish from close range.
Ben Turner and Connell Rawlinson both came close to turning home Walker’s superb free-kick as we commenced our pursuit of an equaliser, with Wootton seeing a header comfortably saved shortly afterwards.
Oates then saw a shot deflected over by the again-excellent Dion Kelly-Evans and we broke from the resultant corner, Walker bursting into space and knocking the ball past the last defender only to snatch at an early shot and drag the ball wide.
Holohan volleyed over from Nicky Featherstone’s free-kick despite appearing to be in an offside position and our hopes of going into the break level were extinguished when Reeves curled a first-time effort over the angle of post and crossbar from the edge of the area on the stroke of half-time.
There were no changes for either side at the break and our hearts were in our mouths shortly after the restart when a misplaced Turner pass presented Oates with a golden opportunity on the edge of the area. Thankfully for us, he sent it well-off target and we breathed a sigh of relief.
From then on in we enjoyed near-total dominance and we came within inches of scoring a 50th-minute equaliser when Ruben Rodrigues hit the post from close range. Boldewijn was first to the rebound, laying the ball off for Michael Doyle who, on the stretch, could only send it over the bar.
A minute later, Brindley and Walker linked up brilliantly only for the full-back to drag his shot wide of the near post.
And we kept up our pressure when some excellent endeavour from Boldewijn presented Rodrigues with a bouncing ball in the area. He couldn’t get enough power on his shot to trouble Ben Killip, though.
Former Magpie Tom Crawford and substitute Ryan Donaldson saw shots blocked on 64 minutes before Ardley made his first change, sending Elisha Sam on for Walker.
And three minutes later Sam was heavily involved in one of two hugely controversial moments, flicking the ball through for Wootton who appeared to be hauled down by last man Ryan Johnson only for the referee to wave play on.
Tyler Magloire produced a heroic block to deny Kelly-Evans a shot from a tight angle and, three minutes later, Boldewijn did brilliantly down the right before somehow seeing his low cross flash across goal without a telling touch.
Boldewijn was involved again on 81 minutes, linking up with Reeves who could only fire his shot over from the edge of the area.
A minute later our task got even tougher when Turner was shown a straight red card for a high boot on Mason Bloomfield as he and Rawlinson attempted to deal with a bouncing ball.
But in the 89th minute we had the goal we richly deserved – at least we thought we did, but for the linesman’s flag. Knowles, on for Rodrigues, produced a fine finish after Sam had flicked on Reeves’ cross and, despite replays showing he was clearly onside, the effort was chalked off.
All wasn’t lost as we were given six added minutes to find an equaliser and, despite being a man down, we were still piling on the pressure.
Rawlinson marauded forward from central defence and scuffed a shot wide before Kelly-Evans played a tantalising ball to the near post which evaded Sam, rolled across goal and wide of the far post.
And that proved to be our final chance as we had to take a disappointing and unjust defeat on the chin in our final game of 2020.
Notts starting XI: Slocombe; Kelly-Evans, Turner, Rawlinson, Brindley; Walker, Reeves, Doyle, Boldewijn; Rodrigues, Wootton
Subs: Lacey, Chicksen, O'Brien, Sam, Knowles