Stockport County 0-1 Hartlepool United - To get through is a massive achivement and one more step for us, says Hartlepool United boss Dave Challinor

Sunday 13th June 2021
Stockport County 0 – 1 Hartlepool United
Kickoff 13/06/2021 12:00

Vanarama National League Play-Off Semi-Final
Sunday 13 June 2021
Stephen McCartney reports watching on BT Sport

HARTLEPOOL UNITED manager Dave Challinor says it is a massive achievement to reach the Vanarama National League Promotion Final.


A fine finish from striker Rhys Oates, 26, with only 14 minutes remaining sealed the victory during a cagey encounter against third-placed finishers Stockport County.

Simon Rusk’s side went into this Edgeley Park semi-final on an 18 match unbeaten run, having completed the 42-match campaign in third-place with 77 points on the board, while Hartlepool United finished in the top-four having collected one point fewer.

Notts County won a five-goal thriller at home to Chesterfield in the Eliminators and three goals inside the opening 24 minutes sealed Hartlepool United a 3-2 home win over Bromley last Sunday.

Gary Johnson’s Torquay United side reached the final by beating Notts County 4-2 after 120 minutes of football at Plainmoor yesterday and Oates’ 17th goal of the season sent the Pools through to next Sunday’s winner-takes-all showdown at Bristol City’s Ashton Gate.

“Massively relieved,” Challinor, who cut a relaxed figure throughout, told BT Sport afterwards.

“These games are always emotional rollercoasters, the elation of scoring, the agony of the last bit of the game and five minutes of injury time but to get through is a massive achievement and one more step for us.

“I suppose formations and systems make games and going into this game I probably knew it was going to be an arm wrestle match.  It becomes individual battles in wing-back areas, three-v-two at the top end of the pitch, three-v-three in the middle of the pitch so it was always going to be that type of game and then it becomes a case of tying to make overloads.

“All first-half we were very safe, probably too safe. I get it why players do it, it certainly wasn’t a game plan to be that.

“Second-half we were a little bit better and you have the feeling it was going to be one goal that decided it and thankfully we got it.”

Stockport County created a glorious chance to seal the deal as early as the seventh minute.

Striker Harry Cardwell received the ball at his feet inside the Hartlepool United half and played the ball out to the right for right-wing-back Macauley Southam-Hales, who cut into the box and put it on a plate for striker Paddy Madden to sweep a first-time shot across the keeper and flashing past the foot of the far post from eight-yards.

The previous three play-off encounters produced 16 goals so it was inevitable that this one would disappoint.

Hartlepool United’s first real opening came in the 37th minute when Oates turned his man and drove forward before unleashing his left-footed drive across the keeper and past the far post from 30-yards.

Hartlepool United started the second half brightly however, before Stockport County forced visiting keeper Brad James into making a save at his near post in the 52nd minute.

Hartlepool United failed to cut out a cross into the box and Southam-Hales cut the ball back for john Rooney and the back-to-back National League player-of-the-year, John Rooney hit a shot on the turn towards the near post from eight-yards which was comfortably dealt with by James.

Stockport County’s players were incensed when Hartlepool midfielder Gavin Holohan only received a yellow card for a high leg which kicked Elliot Newby in the head inside the centre-circle and substitute striker Newby wasted a glorious chance to score just a couple of minutes later.

Rooney’s fine pass along the deck split the Hartlepool defence to release Tom Walker down the left and he cut the ball back from the by-line but Newby fluffed his big chance at the near post, slicing a poor shot back where it came from, instead of nestling inside the near upright.

However, the game started to open up and Oates, who ended Bromley’s promotion hopes by scoring two goals against Andy Woodman’s side last Sunday, notched the winner.

Stockport’s Ashley Palmer – who plays at the heart of a three-man central defence – lost the ball to Ryan Johnson in midfield while trying to play out from the back and Johnson fed the ball into Mark Shelton, who sent Oates running forward with the ball at his feet and with his third-touch, while being left in oceans of space, Oates stroked a left-footed drive in to the back of the net from 25-yards, helped by the hands of diving keeper Ben Hinchliffe and the base of the right-hand post.

“It was a different game for him today because first half, again, they played a little bit deeper and we didn’t get enough quality into him, into areas he likes,” said Challinor of his star man Oates.

“But he got a chance on the edge of the box, a chance that wins the game for us.  He’s a matchwinner, hopefully he’s saved one more for next week.”

Stockport County missed a glorious chance to force extra-time with 76 seconds of normal time remaining.

Substitute striker Richie Bennett played the ball out to James Jennings, who whipped in a great cross towards Bennet and Alex Reid, both waiting on the edge of the six-yard box and Bennett planted his header straight into the hands of the grateful James, who grabbed hold of the ball whilst down on his knees.

Liam Hogan put a ball into the Hartlepool United box and Southam-Hales’ acrobatic effort on goal screamed over the crossbar before the away side had the final chance of the game when they produced a good move down the right and substitute Luke Molyneux’s shot from 18-yards while put under pressure, was gobbled up by Hinchliffe.

Hartlepool United last played in League Two in 2017 while Gary Johnson will be aiming for a seventh career promotion to guide Torquay United back into the Football League after a seven year absence.

“We’ve earnt ourselves an opportunity in a one-off game to get into the Football League,” said Hartlepool’s manager.

“We’ll give the players a day off tomorrow and then our sole focus is to go to Bristol City next week and win.

“Listen, Torquay played in a different way, a way I’ve not seen before (against Notts County yesterday).  They played a little bit on the counter-attack, played a 4-4-2, played with (defender) Kyle Cameron on the left of midfield in a four, which is something that when the teamsheet came out I didn’t envisage that happening.

“But they did enough to win the game and they scored four goals by playing in that manner so they have individual threats all over the pitch.

“At the start of the season they were well in the way the best team in the league but they lost some players to injury, which hurt them but we know it’s a tough game. It’s a one-off game and I can’t absolutely wait for it to happen.”

Stockport County: Ben Hinchliffe, Macauley Southam-Hales, Tom Walker (Richie Bennett 81), Ashley Palmer, James Jennings, Liam Hogan, Will Collar (Elliot Newby 60), John Rooney, Harry Cardwell (Alex Reid 73), Paddy Madden, Ryan Croasdale.
Subs: Sam Minihan, Ross Fitzsimons

Booked: James Jennings 90

Hartlepool United: Brad James, Jamie Sterry, David Ferguson, Gary Liddle, Timi Odusina, Ryan Johnson, Gavin Holohan (Luke Molyneux 77), Nicky Featherstone, Rhys Oates, Luke Armstrong, Mark Shelton (Ryan Donaldson 88).
Subs: Ben Killip, Zaine Francis-Angol, Daniel Elliott

Goal: Rhys Oates 76

Booked: Gavin Holohan 63

Attendance: 2,758
Referee: Mr David Richardson
Assistants: Mr Darren Williams & Mr Jonathon Bickerdike
Fourth Official: Mr Thomas Parsons