Hartlepool United Ladies secured a glorious second successive promotion after defeating Sheffield Wednesday Ladies in their play-off game on Sunday afternoon.
Goals from Jess Dawson, Justine Robinson and Nicky Duckling saw Pools through to a richly-deserved 3-1 victory over The Owls at Wilberfoss Sports Ground in York.
All the goals came in a dominant first half for Andy Stuart’s team, who will now start next term in the Premier Division of the North East Regional Women’s Football League.
Pools had prepared professionally for the game, organising a series of friendlies to keep up their match fitness in the six-week period after the regular season had finished.
That confidence showed in the opening period as Stuart’s girls got on top, penning Wednesday back in their own half as they went hunting for the first goal.
However, it was The Owls who struck first against the run of play; a quick free-kick caught the Pools defence on their heels and the ball was stroked home from the edge of the box.
Whilst frustrated by the setback, Pools responded positively and were back on level terms within ten minutes when a brilliant run from Justine Robinson saw her find space to deliver a deep cross to the back post where Jess Dawson volleyed the equaliser.
Robinson then got on the scoresheet herself on 35 minutes; joining the attack from centre-back with a determined run forward she collected the ball, went round a defender and then produced a wonderful lobbed finish to make it 2-1.
Pools increased their lead before the break; keeper Chloe Biggs produced a smart save to deny Wednesday and then quickly sent the ball forward for Nicky Duckling who outpaced two defenders and slotted the ball under the keeper.
The second half was all about game management for Pools and, even though their opponents did put some pressure on at times, they were held at bay by some determined defending.
At the other end there were also further chances for Pools but the Wednesday keeper pulled off great saves to deny Duckling, Jade Pye and Laura Wilson.
“It was a bonus to be given this chance to play for promotion and, after some good preparation, the end result was well deserved,” Stuart explained afterwards.
“I felt it was a game that we were always going to win even after conceding because the girls looked assured and confident, and were playing good football – the only surprise was that we didn’t add to our tally in the second half.
“After recent football disappointments in the town, we were determined to win the game and that was what we did.
“We have a fantastic bunch of girls that can definitely progress even higher if they put their minds to it so the work starts for the Premier Division straight away.”
Full Time: Pools 3 Sheffield Wednesday 1
Pools: Biggs, Duffy-Smiuth, Garside (Hurrell 70), Robinson, Rowbotham, Stuart (Wilson 70), Portas (Pye 46), Basnett, Duckling (Bartlett 60), Cowan (Lambert 46), Dawson.