Hartlepool United 3-2 Bromley - We didn't give a good account of ourselves in the first-half, admits Bromley boss Andy Woodman

Sunday 06th June 2021
Hartlepool United 3 – 2 Bromley
Kickoff 06/06/2021 14:30

Vanarama National League Play-Off Eliminator
Sunday 6 June 2021
Stephen McCartney reports watching on BT Sport

BROMLEY manager Andy Woodman admits he was really disappointed with his side’s first-half performance after their Football League aspirations died in the North-East.

Dave Challinor’s side stunned the Lillywhites by scoring three goals in a devastating seven minute blitz at Victoria Park as Hartlepool United romped into a 3-0 lead inside the opening 24 minutes.

The outstanding Rhys Oates scored twice – taking his goalscoring tally to 16 goals – and his strike partner Luke Armstrong also scored as Bromley’s poor defensive play was clinically punished.

Woodman made a couple of changes at the break as his players came out after five minutes inside the dressing room for some soul searching and substitute James Alabi swiftly restored some pride by heading home his eighth goal of the season.

The salvage operation proved to be too little too late as Bromley pulled a second goal back, an injury-time flick from centre-half Alex Mitchell, on loan from Championship side Millwall as Bromley scored from another set-piece.

“We started the game really well, which you always wanted to do,” Challinor told BT Sport afterwards.

“I’ve said before the game, I’ve been in a situation in play-off games where we’ve been two in front after 20 minutes, been two behind after 20 minutes and it’s always important, especially in these games, certainly with us being here and having supporters in. It was going to be important and you can’t ask for a better start than we had.

“We worked on little bits. Normally the (Bromley) back four do sit in but if you can draw their full-backs out, especially with the shape we were playing, that we could get some joy.

“I thought we switched the play really well in the first half when it wasn’t on down the sides and that was something that we looked at. We probably didn’t do it enough second half, probably got a little bit safe.  As much as you warn against that at half-time, a players’ mentality – I’ve been there – deep is good and it’s not always the case and it’s certainly a horrible case when you’re watching from the sides and you’re trying to get them up the pitch.”

Praising two-goal striker Oates, the Pools boss added: “I think that (composure in front of goal) comes from when you score goals. You’re always too keen sometimes and snatch at things where if you’ve got 15 goals under your belt, all off a sudden there is that confidence, that belief or I suppose technique is good enough to finish.  Goalscorers, not like I was anywhere near a goalscorer myself, but they tell me if you get on good runs as forwards, they tend to carry on so hopefully that will be the case moving forward.”

The Lillywhites finished their Vanarama National League campaign in seventh-place, having collected 69 points from their 52 games, while Challinor’s side finished were fourth-placed finishes on 76.

Yesterday, in the other Play-Off Eliminator, Notts County beat Chesterfield 3-2, twice coming from behind to win a pulsating encounter at Meadow Lane, courtesy of Mark Ellis’ 90th minute header.

Notts County will now travel to league runners-up Torquay United in the Semi-Finals next Saturday, while Hartlepool United will make the trip to third-placed finishers Stockport County 24 hours later.

The Promotion Final will take place at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate on Sunday 20 June (14:00) due to Wembley Stadium being prepared for the delayed 2020 European Championships.

Bromley arrived at Victoria Park on an six game unbeaten run, which earned former Arsenal coach Woodman the Vanarama National League manager-of-the-month award for May.  The curse came at the wrong time, however.

This was the first time that the Kent club had reached the play-offs while dining at the top table of non-league football after winning the Conference South title under Mark Goldberg in 2015, as Woodman carried on the hard work from his predecessor, the legendary Neil Smith, who put so much into his home-town club and the local community during his 10 year stay at Hayes Lane.

Woodman didn’t attend his 13th game in charge, - last Saturday’s crucial 1-0 home win over Notts County - as he was watching his goalkeeper son Freddie playing at Wembley Stadium for Swansea City in their EFL Championship Play-Off Final 2-0 defeat to Brentford.

The victory gave Bromley a ticket for the end-of-season lottery with six other clubs whom all have previous Football League history, as Alan Dunne and Roger Johnson stepped in for the second time.  The previous time was for Bromley’s 3-0 defeat at Wrexham on 27 March, the game immediately after Smith’s departure, which came as a shock as Bromley were sitting in seventh-place in the table at the time.

Bromley travelled up to Hartlepool United on match-day three and came away with a 0-0 draw on Tuesday 13 October 2020, before Jude Arthurs scored the only goal of the game at Hayes Lane on Monday 3 May 2021.

The Pools, meanwhile, completed their campaign with a 3-1 defeat to Sutton United, who celebrated winning the title and earning promotion into League Two for the first time in their history, before beating Weymouth 4-0 at home on the final day as Pools (like Bromley) finished in their highest ever position in the National League, after losing their Football League status in 2017.

And the Pools’ are now only two wins away from making a return as they set the tone right from the off, creating their first opening after only 63 seconds.

Good play down the right wing from Armstrong saw the ball deflect into Oates’ path and his first-time hooked shot flashed across keeper Mark Cousins and past the far post from 12-yards.

Bromley temporarily weathered the early storm, surviving three early corners and created a half-chance when the quiet Harry Forster slipped the ball through to Ben Williamson, who cut the ball back from the right-hand side of the box and was parried by the diving keeper Brad James and recalled centre-half Timi Odusina lashed the ball clear from inside the six-yard box.

Hartlepool United opened the scoring by taking a 17th minute lead when central midfielder Nicky Featherstone was given the freedom of the centre-circle to hit a long ball over the top of centre-half Chris Bush to put Oates through on goal to poke his right-footed shot across Cousins, the ball tricking into the bottom far corner.

Shell-shocked Bromley leaked a second goal just 207 seconds later, despite having five defenders inside their penalty area at the time.

Hartlepool United did their homework and noted that left-back Charlie Fox was a weak link in Bromley’s back four, hitting a long ball over the top to release Oates down the channel and he cut the ball back to Armstrong, who took a touch inside the box and his shot deflected off a pressing Mitchell and looped past the diving Cousins.

Bush launched a trademark long throw into the Hartlepool box and Fox rose to steer his header straight into James’ hands for a comfortable catch from eight-yards.

However, the game was seemingly over as Hartlepool United notched their third goal with only 23 minutes and 38 seconds on the clock as Bromley capitulated.

This time they had six defenders inside their box when the trigger was pulled.

Bromley failed to prevent a sweeping attack approach them and once on the edge of their box, midfielder Gavin Holohan slid over under pressure to poke the ball into Oates feet, who from inside the D stroked his left-footed shot past Cousins (who was down on his knees) from 20-yards.

Covid-19 restrictions have prevented away fans travelling to these National League play-offs, although both clubs fans can attend the Final and the 1,700 Hartlepool United fans were certainly enjoying what they were watching as Bromley put in a shambolic defensive performance during the first-half.

Twenty-eight minutes in, left-wing-back David Ferguson was inside the channel and he backheeled the ball to Mark Shelton, who whipped in a deep cross which was met by Jamie Sterry’s header, which Cousins made a comfortable catch to deny the right-wing-back.

Bromley have been a threat from set-pieces for the past couple of seasons and this method almost gave them a lifeline just before the half-hour mark.

Billy Bingham floated in a deep free-kick from the left and keeper James came out and dropped the ball. The ball bounced a few times and sat up nicely for Bush to hook his shot towards goal, which was superbly headed off the line by centre-half Gary Liddle.

Oates started and almost finished another raid, spraying the ball out wide to Ferguson, who whipped in a cross and brave keeping from Cousins, saw him dive at his near post to flick the ball away with Oates lurking.

Woodman sent his shell-shocked team out on to the pitch early and made a couple of changes at half-time with Williamson and Fox withdrawn with Alabi joining the attack and Byron Webster coming on to partner Mitchell at the heart of defence. This meant Bush slotted in at left-back.

The tactical switch had the desired effect, however, as Bromley grabbed a goal back just two minutes and 19 seconds into the half following a short-corner.

Arthurs' deep cross was headed back across goal by an unmarked Mitchell and Alabi steered his header across the keeper and into the far corner of the net from six-yards.

Bush got away with committing a foul in the build-up but referee Lewis Smith waved play-on and Oates cut into the box from the right and his initial shot was blocked by Webster at the near post but his second bite of the cherry was drilled into the base of the side netting.

Bromley rallied at the halfway point of the half.  Alabi got in front of his marker at the near post to flash his first-time shot past the near post following another set-piece but next season Bromley must start creating more chances from open play instead of relying on set-pieces to score goals.

Bush launched a trademark long throw into the crowded six-yard box and the ball was flicked onto the near post by a Hartlepool head.

Bingham and Arthurs were being dominated in the middle of the park by Hartlepool.

Arthurs swung in a corner from the left, which was tipped over the bar by James, who then saw a stinging 25-yard drive from Bingham deflect past the left-hand post as Bromley found some belief from somewhere.

Hartlepool United were not the same attack minded side during the second half and a good three-man move down the right resulted in Sterry cutting into the box and flashing a left-footed drive just past the near post.

Inside the final 15 minutes and Bromley substitute Tate Campbell played the ball into the feet of the National League top scorer Michael Cheek, who flicked the ball out to Alabi down the right.  He cut inside and his weak left-footed angled drive from 25-yards was comfortably gathered by the untroubled James.

Sterry played the ball in from the right and Oates exploded into life and his shot deflected off Mitchell and forced Cousins to scramble to his right only for the ball to go behind for a Hartlepool corner.

Bromley’s second goal was a case of too little too late, coming two minutes and 11 seconds into injury-time.

Bush launched another long throw from the left into another crowded goal-mouth and Mitchell flicked the ball into the net at the near post, getting there just before Hartlepool substitute Zaine Francis-Angol could make the block.

Too many Bromley players put in under-par performances and that disappointed Woodman, who suffered his second defeat in charge of the club.

“Everything we’ve done and built ourselves on, we didn’t do in the first-half and we can say we didn’t do certain things,” Woodman told BT Sport.

“I think we’ve got to give a bit of credit to them. They were all over us, every ball that bounced they were on to.  Every ball that went through us, they were on to.

“There’s no gripes from us. The only thing I was really disappointed with was that we didn’t give an account of ourselves during that first half, that we’ve done since I’ve been here and credit to them.  You’ve got to take your hat off to them, they’ve done a brilliant job on us.”

However, the game was done and dusted after only 24 minutes – reminiscent to Bromley’s 4-0 defeat at Ebbsfleet United in the Conference South Play-Off Semi-Final in 2014  when Mark Goldberg’s side were 2-0 down inside nine minutes and down to 10 men after only eight minutes.    Bromley won the home leg 1-0, however, and clinched the Conference South title the following season.

“It wasn’t a shouting team-talk or anything like that,” revealed the former Arsenal coach.

“I was really disappointed for them because I know all of their families will be watching (the game on TV) so it wasn’t us.

“I just said ‘look, you’ve got to go out there and show a bit of pride for the people back home watching’.  The fans watching, the supporters who I know are gathered at the ground and that was my real disappointment.

“We just didn’t give a good account of ourselves that first half and we’ve given us a mountain.

“I still actually fancied us, believe it our not but look, it wasn’t to be.  I’ve just said to the boys you should be very proud and your families should be very proud of the effort that you’ve given in that second half, just trying to get it across the line but it wasn’t meant to be.

“It would’ve been a travesty if we would’ve got an equaliser but we had a go, that is our team, we keep having a go.

“We had a little spell after half-time. I thought ‘here we go’ and then they killed us off.  They kept the ball and killed our momentum.”

Looking ahead to his side’s trip to Stockport County, Challinor added: “You look at fine details where we can potentially look at weaknesses where we can get joy but it takes care of itself.

“I think Nicky Featherstone said the other day the play-off final is 20 June. We came back (for pre-season training) on 20 June so it’s been 12 months, which is a long time for them.

“We are managing a few little bits. It won’t be a case of doing a massive amount, obviously the importance is Sunday and making sure that everyone is prepared and can go on and perform on what will be a different atmosphere than today with the home fans at Stockport which is a different proposition but one that we’re looking forward to and one that we’re up for. 

“It’s a great game to be involved in.  This is the reason why we do it but I’m not sure sometimes.”

Hartlepool United: Brad James, Jamie Sterry, David Ferguson (Ryan Donaldson 83), Gary Liddle, Timi Odusina, Ryan Johnson, Gavin Holohan (Zaine Francis-Angol 80), Nicky Featherstone, Rhys Oates (Danny Elliott 88), Luke Armstrong, Mark Shelton.
Subs: Henrich Ravas, Harvey Saunders

Goals: Rhys Oates 17, 24, Luke Armstrong 20

Booked: Rhys Oates 86

Bromley: Mark Cousins, Joe Kizzi, Charlie Fox (Byron Webster 46), Billy Bingham, Chris Bush, Alex Mitchell, Jack Bridge, Jude Arthurs, Michael Cheek, Ben Williamson (James Alabi 46), Harry Forster (Tate Campbell 69).
Subs: Frankie Raymond, Liam Trotter

Goals: James Alabi 48, Alex Mitchell 90

Booked: Billy Bingham 3, Jude Arthurs 54, Alex Mitchell 82

Attendance: 1,700
Referee: Mr Lewis Smith
Assistants: Mr William Davis & Mr Alan Hull
Fourth Official: Mr Adam Herczeg