Sweeney: ‘Westwood’s red card at Cardiff saved my Hartlepool career!’

Chris Westwood is red carded at Cardiff in the League One Play-Off final between Hartlepool United and Sheffield Wednesday.
Chris Westwood is red carded at Cardiff in the League One Play-Off final between Hartlepool United and Sheffield Wednesday.

A decade on, Antony Sweeney and Chris Westwood still regularly get in contact to pull the other’s leg about THAT day at Cardiff.

With just eight minutes to go in the 2004-05 League One Play-Off final, Hartlepool United found themselves 2-1 up against Sheffield Wednesday.

Antony Sweeney with fans at the Hartlepool United 2004-2005 squad reunion at the Borough Hall.

Antony Sweeney with fans at the Hartlepool United 2004-2005 squad reunion at the Borough Hall.

They had one foot in the Championship – the first time in the club’s history Pools would have played in the second tier of English football.

But it wasn’t to be in front of an incredible support of 17,000 Pools fans.

Goals from Eifion Williams and Jon Daly saw them come from behind to lead Sheffield Wednesday only for the final to go horribly wrong when Westwood was adjudged to have fouled Drew Talbot in the area and Pools were reduced to 10 men, their lead wiped out from the penalty spot.

The Owls used their man- advantage well during the extra-time, winning 4-2 in the end to dash the hopes of the team and the proud town.

Hartlepool United 2004-2005 squad reunion at the Borough Hall, The Headland, Hartlepool on Saturday night.

Hartlepool United 2004-2005 squad reunion at the Borough Hall, The Headland, Hartlepool on Saturday night.

It was a cruel, cruel blow but Pools fans still rightly look back with a lot of pride after what was an incredible season and one that will live long in the memory.

Sweeney reflected: “Sometimes I get in contact with Westy and say ‘you ruined it for me’ and he comes back with ‘I saved your career because if we got to the Championship you’d have been released’.

“Maybe he did me a massive favour and prolonged my career at Hartlepool!”

Taking a 2-1 lead through Daly’s 71st-minute header – in front of what seemed like the entire population of Hartlepool – will live long in the memory for Sweeney, who started out as a trainee at Pools and served the club for 13 years.

Hartlepool United 2004-2005 squad reunion at the Borough Hall

Hartlepool United 2004-2005 squad reunion at the Borough Hall

Sweeney told SportMail: “First I think it was the emotion of ‘we’ve scored’ but when you get back to the half-way line, it’s more ‘we’re in front’ and you start to believe we might just do this after all.

“The actual game I can’t remember who was on top at what stages, I just remember there was still a long way to go!”

One niggle that will never go away though is the controversial awarding of the 82nd-minute penalty, which saw Westwood sent to the stands after the foul on Talbot.

“If he’d have just cleaned him out and it was a definite penalty then you can say ‘that’s football,’ added Sweeney.

“But because it was borderline there is always that feeling of what might have.”

That team was the most successful in Hartlepool’s proud history and they reunited recently at the Borough Hall, in Hartlepool, to mark 10-years since the trip to Cardiff.

They forged a strong bond a decade ago and one that remains strong to this day.

The 31-year-old midfielder, who left Pools in July 2014 to sign for Carlisle United, said: “A few of us stay in contact but the lads are scattered all over the place and have busy schedules.

“So to get all the people in one room, having a few drinks together was brilliant.

“I think because we were all mates you put that extra per cent in that you hope will make the difference.”