Hartlepool FC v Shildon

Shildon were on cup duty on Saturday as they travelled to Hartlepool to visit the home of the town’s lesser known footballing namesake, Hartlepool FC of the Wearside League.
The occasion was the latest round in the Railwaymen’s defence of the Durham Challenge Cup; a quarter final tie against a side 47 places and two divisions below the Northern League title challengers, but a side earning their place in the latter stages of the tournament with a notable upset over Billingham Synthonia in the previous round.
Complacency could have been Shildon’s greatest foe in this contest but as it happened there was nothing to fear – the enemy failed to turn up and what should have been a routine progression to the semi final was exactly that, a five-nil rout of a committed but ultimately lower-ranking opposition.
The County Cup tournament is traditionally played on a midweek evening under lights unless, that is, the lighting equipment does not exist, as is the case at the Grayfields Enclosure. As a result the kick off time was also pulled forward to 1.30pm to ensure the match finished in daylight should extra time be required.
The club makes use of the Grayfields Sports Pavilion, built with the assistance of the local authority and the Football Foundation, as their changing rooms. The building is owned by the local authority and, on the opposite side to the Hartlepool club’s pitch, provides a community football facility on a 3g surface which, somewhat ironically, includes floodlights.
It is a facility that the Wearside club covets and talks are in progress with the local authority on the possibility of the football club taking ownership of the building – a deal that could enable the club to provide permanently licensed premises in the otherwise fully equipped facility. Today the thirsty crowd, on a positively mild, spring-like afternoon, were able to make do with the tinned version of their favourite tipple. While the visiting fans will have enjoyed the taste of success, the home support at least had some means of drowning their sorrows.
The match itself proved a formality. Shildon were able to reach into the depth of their squad to give a rare start this season to Lee Scroggins as well as to regular contributors Chris Emms, Lee Chapman and Mickey Rae. Liam Atkin again covered for the injured Carl Jones with Daniel Moore dropping back from midfield to assist in central defence with Darren Craddock also recovering from a knock. Captain Mark Hudson and left back Darren Richardson sat out today’s proceedings as they too return to full fitness.
It is perhaps fortuitous timing for the Railwaymen that a number of first team players were able to use the break from league action as an extended recovery period given the significance of next weekend’s Valentine’s Day meeting with Marske – surely now Shildon’s main title rivals after leaders West Auckland fell to defeat at the hands of Guisborough later in the afternoon.
From the kick off the match was played almost exclusively in one half. Hartlepool were concentrated and enthusiastic competitors but the differing levels at which the sides compete was clear from the outset. The home team were not committed to a containing tactic, but their visitors forced them onto the back foot from the kick off. Unsurprisingly Hartlepool’s best chances of the game arrived at its end, when the visitors appeared to be already contemplating their midweek task at Newcastle Benfield.
Early chances fell to Emms, Wood and Greulich-Smith before Shildon took the lead on the quarter hour through Mickey Rae. Good work in the build up saw the ball reach Jamie Harwood on the Shildon right. His cross found Ben Wood whose header cannoned off the underside of the bar and landed at the feet of Rae for an easy conversion.
Two minutes later the lead was doubled. Another move down the right and another cross into the box found the Hartlepool defence static, all rooted, with hands raised claiming offside and none playing to the referee’s whistle. Billy Greulich-Smith, the ex-Hartlepool United forward meanwhile, in an ocean of space and time, had no more difficult task than to nod home unchallenged.
Although it could be argued that there was already no way back, the game could and should have been far beyond the home side by half time. Several clear opportunities to extend the lead were squandered with Rae in particular missing out on a first half hat trick; on one occasion heading over an open goal from six yards and on another failing to find the target with just the keeper to beat. Sidefooting wide of a vacant target in the second half just was about enough for the striker who made way soon afterwards for Mark Doninger.
The main frustration of such profligacy for the travelling fans was not so much that it allowed the home side to remain hopeful but more that it deprived the visiting support of a glut of goals to celebrate. It could be argued that Hartlepool, committed and spirited as they were deserved a better fate than to lose by a wide margin and perhaps the Shildon players felt so too – after ensuring they would be in the hat for the semi-final draw.
The game was finally put to bed as a contest on the hour when Ben Wood won a free kick on the edge of the Hartlepool box. Lee Chapman stepped up to delicately curl the ball beyond the reach of keeper, Callum Hudson.
Immediately after the goal Jack Taylor – a hometown boy who has had limited first team outings since his arrival at the club from Sheffield Wednesday – replaced Lee Scroggins. Ten minutes later, Ben Wood added to the scoreline after Greulich-Smith stole the ball from Garthwaite at the edge of the central defender’s box. The ball ran perfectly into the path of Wood who slotted into the corner past the helpless keeper.
And if Hudson felt helpless then, he had no chance to save the game’s final and finest goal when Wood turned provider by rolling the ball to Taylor 22 yards from goal. The young midfielder met the ball with a thunderous drive that crashed high into the roof of the net to earn him his first goal for the club and cap another fine team performance.
The win means the club has reached its third semi-final in a row and will await the outcome of the remaining ties in midweek before they discover their opponent in the final four. Hartlepool, meanwhile, are a club with obvious ambition to climb the pyramid and we wish them well in their future endeavours.
Meantime Shildon return to league action and will hope that their midweek visit to Benfield will see them reach within three points of the top of the table (remarkably while only occupying the sixth position) and set up next weekend’s blockbuster battle at Dean Street.
SHILDON: Hayes, Harwood, Chapman, Hodgson, Atkin, Moore, Emms, Scroggins (Taylor), Rae (Doninger), Wood, Greulich-Smith. Subs not used: Craddock, Brackstone, Connor.
GOALS: Rae (16), Greulich-Smith (18), Chapman (63), Wood (72), Taylor (80).
HARTLEPOOL FC: Hudson, Swiles, Moore, Naylor, Garthwaite, Butler, McDermott, Osborne, Hutchinson, Jones, Kelsey. Subs: Davis, Scotter, Ryan, O’Sullivan, Sweeny.
Attendance: 161


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