Dave Challinor reflects on penalty drama in National League play-off final as Hartlepool United secure promotion to the Football League

Dave Challinor was made up for the Hartlepool United players and supporters following the most dramatic of promotions in National League history.

Sunday, 20th June 2021, 6:33 pm

Luke Armstrong gave Pools the lead before Torquay goalkeeper Lucas Covolan headed in a dramatic 95th minute equaliser to force extra-time and ultimately penalties at Ashton Gate.

Nicky Featherstone, Armstrong missed the first two penalties for Pools while Danny Wright and Billy Waters missed Torquay’s first two before Mark Shelton finally dispatched from 12 yards.

"We had one hand on the trophy and the Football League and then it's snatched away from you but we go on to win it in the most emotional way possible,” Challinor said afterwards.

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Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor celebrates with the trophy after winning the shoot-out and promotion after the Vanarama National League play-off final at Ashton Gate, Bristol.
Hartlepool United manager Dave Challinor celebrates with the trophy after winning the shoot-out and promotion after the Vanarama National League play-off final at Ashton Gate, Bristol.

"Thankfully now I've earned that opportunity and it's one I'm massively looking forward to. It feels absolutely amazing. The play-offs are a bit of a lottery and the penalty is even more of a lottery so when our best two penalty takers miss and their best two penalty takers miss, you start questioning what's going on?

“I'm made up for the players. We now have a much better chance of keeping this team together.

“I’m made up for the supporters too, it was an amazing atmosphere even if there wasn’t an awful lot of social distancing going on.”

Goalkeeper Brad James was caught out for Torquay’s late equaliser but was the hero from the penalty spot to tip Matt Buse’s crucial spot kick onto the crossbar.

“You don’t want to know what’s going through my head,” Challinor added. “The last six minutes of injury time were awful, I wasn’t happy with our second half performance and I thought we sat on our lead.

"Brad made a mistake and goes from villain in the 95th minute to the hero on penalties.

“I’ll be honest, I was hoping the previous three we’d scored, Torquay would end up missing. To be fair, the two penalties that were taken from their two players were really good penalties under pressure.

"Brad got a good hand on the ball and it hit off the crossbar. At that point time stands still and you just hope it stays out.

“It was two teams who were emotionally drained for penalties. It was a game that had everything and thankfully we’ve won.

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