Hartlepool United claimed a 3-2 win over Bromley in their play-off eliminator match to keep their promotion dreams alive despite a late scare.
The fact that Pools hadn't scored against Bromley in the regular season certainly didn’t deter them as they effectively secured their place in the semi-final inside a staggering eight minute spell.
Bromley pulled a goal back through James Alabi shortly after the half-time break before Byron Webster made it a nervy final few seconds deep into stoppage time to make it 3-2.
It was the first time the play-offs had returned to Victoria Park in over 16-years. These type of matches haven’t been kind to Pools over the years, then again, what has? The club’s previous 11 play-off matches yielding just one victory.
Last month, Bromley beat Pools 1-0 at Hayes Lane following a goalless draw at The Vic earlier in the season.
The Ravens had lost just one out of 13 matches under new manager Andy Woodman while Hartlepool had won 13 of their last 15 games on home turf.
The conclusion of a long and turbulent season was fast approaching, but for one team in particular, it was about to end at Victoria Park.
Dave Challinor made two changes to his side for the play-off match.
Luke Armstrong returned from illness as expected with Danny Elliott dropping back to the bench. A surprise change saw defender Lewis Cass withdraw due to a hamstring injury with Timi Odusina coming back into the starting line-up for the first time since the 4-2 defeat against Maidenhead United.
The sense of occasion wasn’t lost on the Victoria Park PA as the immortal words of Eminem echoed around the stadium with the utmost relevance.
"One shot, one opportunity...Would you capture it or just let it slip?”
Hartlepool’s first ever competitive match to take place in June kicked off with a roar from the 1,700 home supporters back in The Vic for only the second time this season. And they had plenty to shout about.
Every early tackle and pass was met with a cheer as Rhys Oates volleyed wide of the left post with just over a minute on the block.
The hosts continued to apply the pressure early on with Nicky Featherstone testing Bromley’s resolve with a succession of dangerous corners.
And it took just over quarter of an hour for Pools to find the breakthrough. Featherstone brilliantly picked out Oates with a long ball forward as the Pools striker controlled brilliantly to get a shot away and find the net to make it 1-0.
Oates would turn provider just moments later as he pulled the ball back for Armstrong to take a touch and curl into the right side of the goal for his 14th of the campaign.
Just like that and Pools already had one foot in the semi-final with less than 20-minutes on the clock.
The home side weren’t satisfied with that though as their relentless pressure continued. Gavan Holohan saw a close range effort blocked before Oates snatched the follow up with a powerful strike to make it 3-0 with just over quarter of the game played.
What was happening at Victoria Park on Sunday afternoon was not normal – a far cry from what Pools fans had been used to for the past decade or so. Hartlepool and particularly the supporters were in dreamland as the carnival atmosphere at The Vic got better and better.
But Bromley were still able to fire a warning shot via Chris Bush’s chipped effort after Brad James spilled a cross. Fortunately Gary Liddle was on the line to clear with a heroic diving header.
Hartlepool had been utterly relentless going forward in the opening 45-minutes with Oates denied a first-half hat-trick following another strong stop from Cousins.
As the sides went in at 3-0, surely this was job done for Hartlepool? Even their habit of making things far more difficult for themselves than they often need to be wouldn’t deny them a date with Stockport County in the play-off semi-finals next Sunday.
It was just about being sensible, keeping up the good work and seeing the game out with professionalism.
After making two attacking changes at half-time, it took Bromley just over a minute to first threaten in the second half. Harry Forster’s low cross was scooped over the bar by the defending Odusina.
The Ravens continued to apply the pressure and half-time substitute James Alabi gave the visitors a potential route back into the game with a free close range header from Alex Mitchell’s flick on to make it 3-1.
All of a sudden those nerves that simply weren’t present for the majority of the first half had just started to creep back in as Pools looked to keep calm and restore their three goal lead.
They came close to doing that just before the hour mark as Oates fired into the side netting from 15-yards after his initial cross was half cleared.
Billy Bingham came close to reducing the deficit for Bromley with a 30-yard drive which deflected just past Brad James’ left post.
Despite the early scare in the second half, Pools were managing the game well and went into the final stages looking the more likely side to grab the next goal.
But deep into stoppage time, Bush’s long throw deflected into the goal off Webster to make Pools panic for the final 30 seconds or so.
Fortunately the referee’s whistle soon blew to confirm Pools’ place in the semi-final as Victoria Park erupted with delight and relief in equal measure.
The promotion dream is still alive.