Goalkeeper Scott Flinders went from zero to hero as he grabbed a last gasp equaliser against Bournemouth.
There was agony and ecstasy, but after the climax of an enthralling game there was still two winners to come out of the 2-2 draw. The gasps of air exhaled by all corners of the ground was enough to suffocate, and as the ball drifted in it was met cleanly, precisely and timely with a header capable enough of rivalling a striker. It was almost surreal as Scott Flinders headed in the 94th minute equaliser sending Victoria Park into a frenzy of jubilation.
It was the stuff of dreams. No one could quite believe what they had just witnessed. It carried with it echoes of Jimmy Glass’ dramatic equaliser – although this time not so much was riding on it. A hankering Bournemouth side vying for a play-off spot surrended their precious lead despite a resilient defence performance amidst a relentless wave of attacking play from the hosts. But they didn’t not surrender their play-off spot. Failure to produce maximum returns for Leyton Orient and Rochdale from their encounters mean Lee Bradbury’s men are on the cusp of two successive promotions.
Hartlepool on the other hand had nothing to play for; just pride and to turn in a performance of appreciation. Pools’ pre-match manifesto was echoed by Mick Wadsworth replacing the suspended – and newly crowned Away Player of the Year – Sam Collins with the raw and teenage Paul Johnson. Johnson proved an adequate cover, although if he wants to pursue a career in the hustle and bustle of League One a few trips to Robinson’s Pie Shop won’t go amiss.
The Cherries cruised through the opening half, casting aside a frail back line albeit Peter Hartley’s terrific display, their intentions set out within minutes as they piled the pressure on. Scott Flinders dived at the feet of Steve Lovell early on to deny a shot. Lovell played a key part in the visitors tactics today, slipping the ball behind the defence to reach Lovell a main aim.
But Flinders’ distrubition was woeful. Act I of Flinders’ dramatic afternoon. He sliced and mis-cued his goal kick which left the goal gaping wide open, and it took Danny Ings hopeful shot from distance to keep the humiliation to a minimum. Bournemouth played some lovely, crisp and articulate football, Liam Feeney’s pace and craftiness also a focal point in their tactics, picking out the number 11 with several cross field pings. Horwood withstood the pressure however and Feeney was forced to switch sides to get more luck.
Act II of Flinders’ dramtic afternoon began when a short pass was intercepted by Hartley who endured an otherwise fautless game, but on this occasion his control proved too heavy and the Cherries took full advantage filleting the defence, before Lovell concluded the passage which left the Pools defence in sixes and sevens.
Pools were prone to mistakes in the first half and there was some dreadful individual displays. Notably Ritchie Humphreys drifting into the middle too often to restrict the teams width down the left (Ritchie later admitting on Twitter his disappointment with his own display). There was a brief respite for Pools though as Adam Boyd began holding the ball up and carving out chances – all failing to fruition however.
Act III of Flinders’ dramatic afternoon soon followed the mini revival though. Lovell played through Donal McDermott who pushed an untroubled shot at goal, but as Flinders went down to collect, the ball trickled through his sorry legs and crept over the line. Forget reminiscing Jimmy Glass’ heroics, this was reminiscent of Robert Green’s embarrassment. Half time arrived on the back of a below-par and outclassed first forty-five.
HT: Hartlepool 2 AFC Bournemouth 2
Pools fans and the Cherriers faithful basked in the sizzling April sun at the interval; little were they aware of the mesmerising action about to unfold. The half as well got off to a brilliant start for the home side, Leon McSweeney rather theatrically making a meal out of a push in the back as he attempted to latch onto a cross, the referee unhesitatingly awarding a spot kick.
The penalty was comfortably dispatched, sent left by Boyd rippling the net and sending an adrenalin rush through the fans and the side. The momentum was firmly with a rejuvenated and enthusiastic Hartlepool. Pools carved out numerous opportunities which threatened to force a way through an obdurate Bournemouth defence, Neil Austin assisting in attacks very well. All never materialised but the willingness and hunger was there.
The Cherriers broke away through Ings, but Johnson prevented a shot sliding in to intercept. Johnson was guided along by his more experienced pros this afternoon, Player’s Player of the Year and Supporter’s Player of the Year Antony Sweeney in particular aiding Johnson early on with his positioning. As for his partner, well, he couldn’t of wished for a better one. Peter Hartley was absolutely outstanding, relishing the role of playing the older guy at the back. The duo helped combat Bournemouth’s early game plan, with Hartley rebuking the through balls that threatened to dissect the defence open. Their second half capabilities were rarely tested.
Still Pools attacked, but still they were faced with an immovable wall in front of them. Act IV of Flinders’ dramatic afternoon soon came when he went some way for amending his earlier discomfiting blunder when he saved two out of three consecutive punts from close range. The crossbar also aiding Pools. From the ensuing corner he rushed off his line to collect possession but the ball slipped through his fingers. Thankfully he was saved from further scars.
Substitute Fabian Yantorno pressed his unlikely claims for a contract renewal with a performance centred around an applaudable work ethic. He went close, as did Sweeney with strikes, whilst Hartley and Liddle watched on as their headers from free-kicks stopped agonisingly short of the goal line. This was an impassioned attempt of a comeback, and was greatly appreciated by their just as desperate fans.
The attacking ascendancy on goal eased off as the seconds ticked down, but then came the joyful, scarcely believable moment when Flinders completed his redemption in perfect – almost imaginable fashion. Act V bringing the curtain down on a fabulous afternoon of football.
FT: Hartlepool 2 AFC Bournemouth 2
The man of the match award this afternoon has to go to Peter Hartley, the defender put in a commanding performance against difficult opposition and lead the defence brilliantly.
MOM: Peter Hartley
Hartlepool: Flinders, Austin, Johnson, Hartley, Horwood, McSweeney, Sweeney, LIddle, Humphreys (Larkin 56), Boyd (Behan 66), Brown (Yantorno 66)
Subs not used: Rafferty, Haslam, Holden, Gamble
Bournemouth: Jalal, Smith, Wiggins, Arter (Molesley 78), Feeney, McDermott, Ings (Williamson 87), Lovell (Fletcher 77), Robinson, Cooper, Pearce
Subs not used: Thomas, Pugh, Purches, Dalla Valle