Darlington 1-2 Hartlepool United: Dramatic comeback sees Pools dump local rivals out of Durham Challenge Cup

Niko Muir was one first-team player to feature for Hartlepool at Darlington
Niko Muir was one first-team player to feature for Hartlepool at Darlington

There will be few Durham Challenge Cup games quite like this.

From a lively off-field atmosphere to an unlikely comeback on the pitch, this renewal of old rivalries certainly delivered.

It was the first time in over 11 years that Hartlepool and near neighbours Darlington had met in any fixture and the game certainly lived up to its pre-match billing.

Darlington dominated throughout and deservedly led until late on after Stephen Thompson's first-half strike.

But late goals from Lewis Hakwins and Josh Hawkes completed a dramatic turnaround for Pools, who now head to the semi-finals of the competition.

Many viewed the quarter final meeting as a far from welcome extra game, an unnecessary distraction from the club’s primary objectives in the National League.

But any doubts over the legitimacy of this derby match were silenced when the teamsheets were released.

Pools, while making ten changes from the side that lost at Harrogate, named a side full of first-team experience.

Their hosts, meanwhile, named an unchanged side from their previous National League North clash.

It wasn’t long after the teams were announced that the chants began, both sets of supporters belting out some terrace favourites which had been bottled up for over a decade.

Such action off the field provided the perfect accompaniment for a feisty start to the clash - which saw Hartlepool threaten first.

Niko Muir and Hawkes combined on the edge of the area with the latter seeing an effort from 18 yards parried away.

It was the visitors who saw most of the ball early on, enjoying a string of corners without really troubling the Darlington backline.

And they would come to rue those spurned opportunities when the Quakers took the lead on 14 minutes.

Jordan Nicholson saw a shot blocked before Ryan Catterick’s attempt to smother the ball failed to have the desired effect - the Pools stopper instead fumbling the ball into the path of Thompson, who took a tough before firing home.

The Darlington fans - cheering every decision that went their way - were buoyant, and so too were their team.

It could have been two moments later, but Catterick atoned for his previous error with a fine stop from Harvey Saunders’ long-range effort.

Saunders, lively throughout, later skewed a shot high and wide before a flowing Pools move brought a stunning save out of Maddison.

Connor Newton picked out Lewis Hawkins and the winger managed to feed Muir, whose drilled effort was somehow kept out by the Darlington stopper’s feet.

Both sides exchanged chances at the half drew to a close, with Thompson coming close to doubling the Quakers’ lead when he fired narrowly over from the 12 yards.

And the same player forced a stretching save from Catterick after the interval, the winger taking aim from the edge of the area only to be denied by the Hartlepool youngster.

Darlington continued to push forward, Catterick again having to be at his best to deny Nicholson from range.

The hosts were laying siege on the Pools goal, with the visiting stopper having to once again deny Thompson with an acrobatic shot after he turned and shot from inside the area.

And on the one occasion where Catterick was beaten, the bar came to Hartlepool’s rescue with Will Smith seeing his header come back off the woodwork.

Pools failed to seriously threaten for the most part after interval, with a tame Mark Kitching shot from 20 yards the closest they came to drawing level.

But all that changed with eight minutes remaining.

A fine Amos cross was met by a towering Hawkins header, with the midfielder seeing his effort bounce in via the crossbar.

And the dust had barely settled when Pools took the lead - Muir closing down a clearance and feeding in Hawkes who kept his cool to slot home what proved to be the winner.

Questions will undoubtedly be asked over whether the visitors deserved the victory, but a derby triumph provides a welcome boost for Hartlepool.

Hartlepool XI: Catterick; Kioso, Miller, Cunningham, Amos; Hawkins, McLaughlin, Newton, Kitching; Hawkes; Amos

Subs not used: Boyle, Fox, Shepherd, Leonard, Rennison

Goal(s): Hawkins 82, Hawkes 83

Yellow(s): Miller 37

Darlington XI: Maddison, Trotman, O'Hanlon (Henshall 16), Smith, Ainge, Galbraith (Burn 45), Elliott, Wheatley (Glover 48), Saunders, Thompson, Nicholson

Darlington subs not used: Hall, Lingthep

Goal(s): Thompson 14

Attendance: 1,758 (139 away)

Referee: Geoff Eltringham