A BATTLING Hartlepool Schools Under 15s suffered a heartbreaking 3-0 Ayresome Park Cup Final defeat to Stockton at Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium.
Despite dominating the match in the second half, Stockton’s final two goals were scored in injury time as Pool pressed for an equaliser making it difficult to stomach for the side.
However, once the disappointment fades, the players will look back on an unbelievable experience they have been part of.
The side arrived early at the ground, and following the usual cup final pitch walk on the magnificent surface, Hartlepool prepared in the superb home dressing rooms before the match got underway.
Hartlepool created the best opportunity of the half after just 10 minutes when a through ball from Paul Braithwaite sent Jason Blackburn through on goal and despite being fouled from behind, which would have resulted in a sending off, he fired wide with just the keeper to beat.
Stockton played a direct approach with long throws and balls up to the front players and Hartlepool had a let off when the ball was headed in but the flag was rightly raised for offside.
However, Stockton took the lead when a cheap free kick was given away midway in the half and the ball was expertly headed in past Ryan Harrisskitt.
Hartlepool finished the half really strongly and were unfortunate not to equalise.
Callam Wood shot wide before several right wing bursts by David Cooper ended with shots blocked and crosses flashing across the goal.
Hartlepool thought they had equalised when an acrobatic volley from Wood was superbly tipped over the bar by Harbottle in the Stockton goal.
The following corner was also cleared from underneath the bar.
Hartlepool made three changes at the break and despite a sloppy opening five minutes, the side dominated for the next 30 minutes and their play not only deserved to equalise but go on to win the trophy.
Sam Nixon playing on the right made a big difference to the side and when he played in Blackburn the strong run and pull back fell to Nixon whose well struck shot was brilliantly saved.
Shortly after Nixon had an effort go just wide and Wood headed a cross just past the post.
Blackburn then bravely closed down the keeper and the rebound again agonisingly went just wide.
The odd time Stockton pressed forward they got the opportunity to put in another Rory Delap-style long throw or a corner and Elliott Hogg, who replaced Harrisskitt in goal, dealt well.
A feature of the half was his excellent kicking to put Hartlepool on the front foot.
Wood then struck the bar from a direct free kick, and Blackburn and Cooper had shots blocked as the ball just wouldn’t go in for the deserved equaliser.
As quite often happens, as Hartlepool pressed forward, Stockton grabbed the vital second and third goals in stoppage time on the break to kill off a valiant and spirited Hartlepool team.
The Ayresome Park Trophy was presented by Middlesbrough Academy Director Dave Parnaby in front of almost 500 spectators.
The side now travels to take part in the Amsterdam Cup during the half term holidays, not a bad way to recover from cup final heartbreak.