City of Liverpool FC’s brilliant FA Trophy run came to an end against National League Hartlepool United on Saturday, but Paul McNallys Purps gave their storied opponents a real scare for 60 minutes at the Berry Street Garage Stadium.
Macca was without the services of goalkeeper Calvin Hare, whose heroics between the sticks bad been a significant part of his side’s journey so far.
A debut was handed to former Bury #1 Jack Atkinson, whilst skipper Danny Mitchley returned to the starting XI to partner Josh Quarless and Elliot Morris in attack.
A bumper home crowd arrived at the Berry Street Garage Stadium early in anticipation of this fixture, with supporters packing out stand behind the goal and showing their appreciation for a squad which has given them some of our greatest days out during this season’s FA Trophy campaign.
A boisterous and loud support marked the first whistle of the match and the purple faithful wouldn’t have to wait for this to reach a real crescendo.
A neat ball forward into the edge of Hartlepool’s box sat Mitchley felled as he turned the ball away from a visiting defender – a free kick was awarded and immediately every home supporter knew this was right in the zone affectionately known as “Josh Quarless territory”.
Quarless stepped up to curl a low effort around a poor Hartlepool wall, seeing the ball nestle in the corner of the net beyond Joel Dixon’s reach.
Josh wheeled away in celebration, running straight for an embrace with Paul McNally in the home dugout.
The Purps had the lead against their fully professional opposition after only three minutes!
Debutant Purps goalkeeper Jack Atkinson then denied a close-range effort from Hartlepool’s Callum Cooke, pushing his stinging strike away for a corner with a strong hand down to his right.
Hartlepool grew into the game and Atkinson was again called upon to claw out a strong effort from Nicky Featherstone, after the experienced midfielder was picked out by a tidy cut-back from David Ferguson.
Ferguson was then the man to be denied, as Atkinson again produced another brilliant low stop to prevent his close-range finish from restoring parity on the stroke of half time.
The Purps had weathered the storm that Hartlepool slowly brought as the half progressed and were relentless in their pressing, snapping into challenges to defend their slender lead.
They were indebted to the multiple saves by Atkinson as they went in at the break ahead, knowing there’d be plenty of work to do to preserve their lead in the second period.
HALF TIME: CITY OF LIVERPOOL 1-0 HARTLEPOOL UNITED
After the break the Purps had a good spell of possession with the torrential rain and wind in their favour, but Pools equalised after 52 minutes when Ferguson’s excellent cross was planted home by a firm header from Mani Dieseruvwe.
The game became somewhat frantic and end-to-end in nature, with both sides struggling with the conditions but the match as a contest ended when Josh Quarless was controversially sent off for a sliding challenge on defender Manny Onariase with an hour played.
Replays showed minimal to no contact, with Quarless making a genuine attempt to win the ball after a heavy touch from the Hartlepool centre back.
However the referee was immediately swarmed by Hartlepool players and appeared to be swayed by a disproportionate reaction to the Purps #10’s attempt to win back possession.
Hartlepool took full advantage of the extra man, taking the lead five minutes later courtesy of Nicky Featherstone, who met Hastie’s cross with a firm header beyond Atkinson.
The visitors extended their advantage with 10 minutes to play when Dieseruvwe turned in the box before side-footing a composed finish home in front of the Hartlepool fans.
Hartlepool added two close range strikes in injury time through Callum Cooke and Louis Stephenson, adding a harsh margin of victory which didn’t reflect the performance of the home side, three leagues below the fully professional visitors – for the first hour at least.
The farcical nature of the referee’s performance was exemplified in injury time when skipper Danny Mitchley received a straight red card for being headbutted by a Hartlepool defender – who only received a yellow card.
Full time arrived shortly after, the home side left the pitch to a standing ovation from the loyal Purps who had been there every step of the way during this memorable FA Trophy campaign.
An early strike from Quarless allowed the home faithful to dream, but in the end the controversial red card and strength of their professional opponents made victory a step too far.
Nevertheless, the home supporters made sure their players left the pitch knowing in no uncertain terms just how much they appreciated the moments they had shared since this run started at home to 1874 Northwich back in September.
FULL TIME: CITY OF LIVERPOOL 1-5 HARTLEPOOL UNITED
CITY OF LIVERPOOL: Jack Atkinson, Michael Simpson, Jack Hont, Adam Rooney, Michael Grogan, Simon Wills (Xenon Bahula 81′), Callum Schorah, Max Allen (Baba Conteh 68′), Danny Mitchley, Josh Quarless, Elliot Morris (Jawad Jebrin 81′).
Subs not used: Ismail Sonko, Ethan Jones, Luke Byron.
MAN OF THE MATCH:
Simon Wills was a key figure in midfield, pressing relentlessly and taking the fight to an experienced Hartlepool United midfield.
Macca was understandably disappointed to go out of the FA Trophy with the referee’s controversial decisions playing such a role in how the match was decided, but he expressed his pride for his side.
The manager also thanked the supporters for turning out and supporting the Purps in such a manner, as well as throughout such a memorable FA Trophy run.