Eight moments that defined Hartlepool United’s promotion from the National League

The 2020-21 season was one to remember for Hartlepool United and there are many key moments that stand out.

Thursday, 8th July 2021, 6:00 am
Players of Hartlepool United celebrate with the Vanaram National League Trophy during the Vanarama National League Play-Off Final match between Hartlepool United and Torquay United at Ashton Gate on June 20, 2021 in Bristol, England. (Photo by Harry Trump/Getty Images)

It was an up and down campaign that ultimately ended in the best way possible as Pools secured promotion with a 5-4 penalty shoot out victory over Torquay United in the promotion final at Ashton Gate

Now the dust has settled, here’s a look back at eight moments that defined Pools’ promotion campaign…

Let's get the negatives out the way first. After an unbeaten start to the season for Hartlepool, early pace-setters Torquay United brought Dave Challinor's side back down to earth and exposed them for the limited and naive side that they were at the time with a 5-0 thrashing at Victoria Park, Pools' heaviest ever National League defeat. It was a wake up call that everybody needed and no one would forget as Challinor quickly brought in new additions and changed the side's style of play.

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If anyone asks what was the turning point in Pools' season, the watershed moment? This was it. Pools were mid table and had recently been beaten 3-0 by Woking when high-flying and high-spending Stockport County came to Victoria Park just before Christmas. What followed was an emphatic 4-0 victory, helped by two red cards for The Hatters which ultimately kick-started Pools' season. Rhys Oates got things off to a flyer with a fine solo goal, his first of 17 for the season and one he didn't look back from after a slow start to the season. It also highlighted the importance of Luke Armstrong as being the player to help fire Pools to promotion not to mention a near faultless debut for Jamie Sterry who proved to be another crucial player in the promotion.
Not only was this a vital 1-0 win over one of Pools' main promotion rivals but all the National League drama surrounding the game ultimately changed the landscape of the entire season. Both sides went into the game not entirely sure if the season would be continuing after the National League failed to secure adequate funding to compensate for the lack of supporters during the season. The fifth tier season was in serious doubt but ultimately continued with 22 teams after Dover Athletic opted to end their season shortly after. The National League North and South seasons were curtailed as a result.
Gary Liddle has been suffering one of the most difficult seasons of his career after missing the majority of the opening four months of the campaign due to a serious groin injury. It wasn't until a home match against Yeovil Town in February where he finally returned to the starting line-up. The game itself wasn't going to plan for Pools as they found themselves 1-0 down and had only won one game all season after conceding first until that point. But a late turnaround thanks to Luke Armstrong and a last-gasp winner from Gavan Holohan saw Pools clinch victory which saw them move into a top three place. It was three points that confirmed seven straight wins at Victoria Park, the backbone of Pools' promotion charge and ultimately marked the start of our next moment...
Between February and May 2021, Pools went on a 16 match unbeaten run in the National League which saw them climb (briefly) to the top of the division. The run epitomised Pools' defensive resilience, character and team spirit that eventually saw the side promoted. It was the longest undefeated streak of any side in the National League up until that point and only ended up being bettered by Stockport County's 18 game run, though we all know how that ended!
This happened in the midst of Pools' unbeaten run but is one that deserves a moment of its own. Pools were trailing 2-1 at Boreham Wood when Ben Killip picked up a serious elbow injury that would effectively end his season. Without a goalkeeper on the bench, Oates was selected to go in between the sticks as loan sensation Richie Bennett replaced him up front. Oates ended up keeping a comfortable clean sheet as Bennett scored a late header to rescue a point for Dave Challinor's side. It was one of many moments that helped Oates secure an end of season awards clean sweep.
This was a big one. After well over a year away from Victoria Park, Pools fans finally returned for the final home match of the regular season against Weymouth. It was a game that had been rearranged to allow supporters to attend and the 1,700 at The Vic certainly weren't disappointed as Hartlepool put on a show with a 4-0 victory. The roar from the stands brought something out in the Pools players and gave them something that they would take into the play-off campaign as they followed it up with three impressive victories in front of supporters to earn promotion.
This arguably deserves a list of it's own. From the scenes at Millennium Square to the game itself and the scenes that followed, this was undoubtedly one of the best moments in Hartlepool United's recent history. The match had everything, late drama, a goalkeeper scoring, a pitch invasion and of course the penalty shoot out which saw Pools secure promotion following the 1-1 draw against Torquay at Ashton Gate. We all felt Dave Challinor's tears at the full time whistle after one of the longest and hardest season's the club has had to endure. Brad James' save from Matt Buse's penalty has etched him and his teammates into Poolie folklore. One we'll all remember for a long, long time.