Pools lost out 3-2 to league winners Charlton Athletic this afternoon in an entertaining and closely-battled match at The Valley. Peter Hartley gave Neale Cooper's men a deserved 1-0 lead in the first half but a strong Charlton outfit upped their pressure after the break to take a 3-1 lead. Gary Liddle then made it 3-2 with a late effort to make the scoreline more reflective of the performance.
There was a real party atmosphere here at The Valley this afternoon but Pools showed from early on in the game that they were not just here to make up the numbers. In a lively first half, Pools looked both composed and confident and while the hosts looked dangerous on the attack, Neale Cooper's men were strong.
Jack Baldwin put in a great block inside the area to deny the busy Bradley Wright-Phillips who got on the end of a Chris Solly ball to shoot on goal. At the other end, a Neil Austin corner kick found Gary Liddle throwing himself at the ball but his shot went wide of target. Pools really did start well, showing good movement and not just sitting back here inviting the League One champions to attack.
Ryan Noble was the biggest threat for Cooper's men as he made good use of his pace in the final threat and proved a nuisance for the home defence. And when Darren Holden sent a long ball up field, it was Noble's determination to press the defender that saw Pools win a corner kick. Neil Austin whipped the corner in from the left and found Peter Hartley waiting to poke him with his left foot to give Cooper's men a 1-0 lead.
Noble was involved again for Pools as he fed the ball on for Andy Monkhouse but his final effort curled just wide of the far post. Pools held firm and took their 1-0 lead into the second half - much to the delight of the large army of smurfs in the away end here at The Valley.
And Cooper's men continued to press after the break - when Noble was hacked down on the edge of the box, Austin stepped up to take the freekick only to see his effort well-saved by Ben Hamer in the home goal.
With Charlton remaining a threat going forward, the Pools defence had to remain strong and youngster Darren Holden showed his worth with a great block to deny Yann Kermorgant running in from the right. Ritchie Humphreys had a good effort as Pools broke well down the right but Club skipper saw his header under pressure go just wide of target.
With another Austin freekick, this time from distance, causing problems inside the Charlton box, Antony Sweeney did well to turn in to try and shoot on goal but the home defence were able to clear.
But with 71 minutes on the clock, Charlton equalised in a similar manner to that which saw Pools open the scoring. A corner from the left was swung into the area and Danny Hollands was on hand to power a header past Flinders to make it 1-1.
With Charlton sensing a win, Kermorgant had a great opportunity to make it 2-1 only to be somehow denied by Flinders who got enough on the ball to send the effort over the bar.
Minutes later though and the hosts' second goal did come; another corner was put back into the area for Danny Haynes who made no mistake as he lifted the ball over Flinders to give his side the lead.
And the hosts made it 3-1 in spectacular fashion when a long throw from the right made its way to Kermorgant on the far side of the box and the forward showed great vision as he wrapped his foot around the ball and sent it back past Flinders and into the roof of the net.
Gary Liddle then gave Pools late hope as he sent a neat chipped effort past Hamer from the right side of the area to make it 3-2 with four minutes remaining.
Although Cooper's men failed to find the equaliser this afternoon, they certainly gave a good account of themselves against the league champions in what was a lively final match of the season at The Valley. The final mention of the season though belongs to the traveling army of supporters who made this a real day to remember.