What a day as Pools clinch a play-off place

Players and fans celebrate together after a memorable day.
Players and fans celebrate together after a memorable day.

It was Shear delight for Hartlepool United as they made the Third Division play-offs in 2002.

At one point in the season, Chris Turner thought his team would need a miracle to achieve the dream.

Gordon Watson strikes.

Gordon Watson strikes.

Yet they did as they triumped 2-0 over Exeter City away from home.

It prompted Alan Shearer to comment at the time that he thought Pools could go all the way to the Second Division.

Fans and players celebrated the away-day success together after a match which started out as a never-say-die rearguard action.

Exeter put Pools under extreme pressure early on and the Mail match report said: “With nothing left to play for, John Cornforth’s men looked the far more relaxed of the two and hit early with a couple of chances.”

Pools got to a play-off position for the first time all season, and just at the right time

Hartlepool Mail reporter, 2002

But there was good news elsewhere where two of Pools promotion rivals were losing.

Then, Pools got their own game into gear and Gordon Watson struck from just outside the box after latching on to Paul Smith’s free kick.

Eifion Williams had challenged the Exeter keeper and it was Watson who pounced on the loose ball.

Watson’s goal was his 18th of the season.

All the while, Pools fans were singing their hearts out and they never stopped all day.

The see-saw day of drama then took a turn for the worse with news that promotion-chasing Rushden had pulled back a two-goal deficit.

Worse followed. Exeter were awarded a penalty.

It would have squared the match but McCarthy put his strike the wrong side of the post.

After that, Pools relaxed and started to play some football with Paul Smith influential. The day got even better on 56 minutes when Smith sent in a corner from the right.

Lee headed it towards goal and although it was cleared, Williams attempted an overhead kick and the ball nestled in the back of the net.

Then came the news that other results had indeed gone Pools way and they were in the play-offs.

Hartlepool United: Williams, Arnison, Lee, Westwood, Robinson, Coppinger (Boyd), Clarke, Humphreys, Smith, Watson (Henderson), Williams (Stephenson). Subs not used; Hollund, Simms.

Exeter City: Fraser, Whitworth, Burrows, Watson, Goff, Breslan, Ampadu (Richardson), Cronin, Roscoe, McCarthy, (Tomlinson), Flack, (Afful). Subs not used; Murphy, Read.

Attendance; 3,595.

Referee: Phil Armstrong (Thatcham).