Hartlepool United Ladies emerged with enormous credit despite a narrow defeat to Women’s Premier League outfit Middlesbrough in the SSE FA Cup on Sunday.
Boro play their football some three divisions above them in the pyramid and were widely tipped to run away with the weekend’s First Round tie against Pools at Thornaby.
However, Andy Stuart’s girls produced a stubborn and gritty performance which made their Teesside rivals work hard for a 1-0 victory to send them through to the next stage.
Pools set out their stall in the early stage of the game and, playing with a new formation devised to stifle their hosts, were able to gain some joy on the counter-attack.
Both sides defended with determination though and there were few clear-cut opportunities in an opening period which was marred by an injury to Pools star Caitlin Bates who was forced off ten minutes before the break.
Middlesbrough were able to hand a second half debut to new signing and England Under-19 international Emma Bell and her introduction provided a spark for the home side.
Within two minutes of the restart Pools were pushed on to the back foot and when the ball came in to the box from the left it was headed home by Millie Bell to put Boro 1-0 up.
The hosts continued to press after getting the breakthrough and came close to doubling their lead on the hour-mark when a free-kick crashed back off the cross bar.
With ten minutes of the game remaining Pools threw caution to the wind and went in search of a leveller; Jess Dawson came agonisingly close when he powerful drive was tipped over the bar by the keeper.
However, Boro’s defence held firm in the face of that late rally from Stuart’s side and they progressed to the Second Round where they will host Leicester City.
“I couldn’t be prouder of the girls after that performance,” Stuart commented.
“Considering the size of the task, the gulf in the league we play in and the expectation that we would be well beaten, we did fantastically well by matching Middlesbrough and giving them a real game.
“Their attitude to training in the weeks leading up the game has been outstanding and the way they carried out the tactics on Sunday was first class.
“For us, this competition is all about that dream and having some fun and we set ourselves the challenge of going as far as we could so we’re pleased with our efforts.
“The girls fully deserve all the plaudits that have come their way during this run in the FA Cup and now we have to make sure we continue to improve when we return to league action next week.”
The Ladies next outing is an away trip to face York City Reserves at York University on Sunday 11th December (1.30pm kick-off).
Full Time: Middlesbrough Ladies 1 Hartlepool United Ladies 0
Pools: Richardson, Duffy-Smith, Garside, Stuart, Bates (Smith 35 (Bartlett 78)), Basnett, Cowan, Robinson, Portas (Pye 70), Rowbotham, Dawson.
Freeman, Hurrell.Subs not used:
Jon PalmerPhoto credit: