Hartlepool United were relegated from League Two for the first time in their history despite coming from behind to beat Doncaster Rovers with a gutsy display on Saturday afternoon.
Knowing they needed to win to give themselves a chance of climbing out of the bottom two, Pools were backed by one of the noisiest crowds in living memory, almost 7,000 roaring themselves hoarse for the cause.
It looked as though another incredible escape was on the cards when Devante Rodney climbed off the bench to score a sensational double to cancel out Andy Williams’ first half opener.
But Newport County scored an 89th minute winner in their game against Notts County to ensure they stayed above the dotted line at Pools’ expense on a dramatic final day.
Trevor Carson had been called in to action in the early part of the game when he made a stunning reaction save to deny Williams the opener, while former Pools loan man James Coppinger fired an effort just too high.
Lewis Alessandra and Rhys Oates both had reasonable efforts for Pools but it was the visitors – chasing a win to try and land the League Two title – who made most of the running in the first half.
And they got their reward just after the half-hour mark when Pools failed to fully-clear a Coppinger free-kick and when the Rovers skipper re-delivered the ball in to the box it fell kindly for Williams to turn and score.
Pools knew they needed to mount a reaction after the break and they came out looking fired up and began to press Darren Ferguson’s men on to the back foot.
Caretaker boss Bates freshened things up with the introduction of Nicky Deverdics on the hour and then teenage duo Rodney and Connor Simpson not long after as the crowd began to pump up the volume to almost frightening levels.
Scott Harrison hurled a long throw in to the box which caused havoc in the Rovers defence; Brad Walker reacted quickest but his prodded effort was brilliantly turned round the post by keeper Ian Lawlor.
If the noise was deafening at that point, it was about to go up another level. Rovers struggled to clear a ball in the box and Padraig Amond fired a shot across goal which was swept home by Rodney to send the crowd in to a frenzy.
With Newport being held 1-1 by Notts County, Pools just had to find another goal to edge out of the drop zone – the fans knew it too and began willing their team on in spine-tingling fashion.
On 83 minutes the moment arrived. Rovers were caught upfield chasing a goal to put their title push back on course and the ball broke to Amond on the right. He moved forward before slipping it across to Rodney who showed composure beyond his years to take a touch, skip around the keeper and ram the ball in to the net. Pandemonium.
Pools had to withstand a Rovers fightback in the closing minutes but it was news of County’s late goal at Rodney Parade that had the ultimately decisive impact.
The Club’s 96-year stay in the Football League was ended but at least there was some pride clawed back with the nature of the performance which can hopefully provide a platform for a swift recovery.
Full Time: Pools 2 Doncaster Rovers 1
Pools: Carson, Donnelly, Walker, Harrison, Magnay, Woods (Deverdics 59), Featherstone (Rodney 67), Hawkins, Alessandra, Amond, Oates (Simpson 72).
Subs not used: Fryer, Richards, Smith, Rooney.
Doncaster Rovers: Lawlor, McCullough (Grant 53), Butler, Wright, Alcock (McSheffrey 79), Coppinger (Taylor-Sinclair 73), Rowe, Blair, Mason, Marquis, Williams.
Subs not used: Marosi, Keegan, Mandeville, May.
Attendance: 6,799 (976 Doncaster Rovers)
Booked: Magnay (Pools), McCullough, Wright, McSheffrey (Doncaster).