Hartlepool United have won a thrilling penalty shootout to claim their place in the Football League. After Luke Armstrong put Pools ahead, they were pegged back in the 94th minute after a goal from Torquay ‘keeper Lucas Covolan. After extra-time, Challinor's men triumphed 5-4 on penalties after Shelton, Sterry, Molyneux, Elliott, and Donaldson netted and James made an outstanding save.
Torquay started the game brightly, and Liddle, Ferguson, and Johnson all had to concentrate to repel Wright and Randell from getting shots away. Following their first corner of the game, Pools had the ball in the net, but the whistle had already gone for a foul on Covolan in the Gulls' goals.
Ryan Johnson went into the book for a late tackle on Randell before history repeated itself at the other end. A deep ball into the box was nodded in by Cameron, but the goal was ruled out for offside despite Torquay's protests. Even the stadium announcer thought they'd scored, but Sweet Caroline was cut short and play resumed.
The first clear-cut chance of the day fell to Rhys Oates, but his low effort was well-held by Covolan. Armstrong tried his luck next, but the on-loan saw his chance deflected over after picking up Holohan's blocked shot.
A couple of chances each followed as Armstrong and Randell had chances blocked. Hall and Evans had chances after the half-hour mark, but James was comfortable for both.
In the 36th minute, we had lift-off. After Rhys Oates' shot found Armstrong in the box, the striker made no mistake. He span Moxey and unleashed a venomous drive that flew past Covolan, clipping the crossbar on the way in. It was his 15th of the season as he chases down Oates for the accolade of top scorer.
Clashes of heads for Holohan and Shelton slowed down much of the rest of the half, but one more big chance completed the period. Oates got into a great position and Covolan contorted himself to somehow tip it into the Atyeo Stand.
Torquay came out with a point to prove in the second half. Following Odusina's strong challenge on Evans, Pools had an immediate scare. A cross from the left was almost turned into his own net by Johnson, but it whistled wide. Two long-range chances followed for the Gulls, but Little and Evans both sliced wide.
Sterry had a chance to increase Pools' lead, but after making space in the box, he saw his toe-poke blocked by the defender. Torquay had the ball in the net again, but Cameron was adjudged to have impeded James when jumping and Pools survived.
A string of substitutions followed, with half-chances coming through a wide free-kick from Torquay and Shelton break through but firing against a defender. With seconds remaining, Pools hearts were broken. Goalkeeper Lucas Colovan came up for a corner in the 95th minute and managed to head beyond James after the second ball came in.
That goal dragged the game into a Torquay-dominated period of extra-time. Winter and Andrews had chances before the latter was taken off on a stretcher with a nasty-looking injury. James looked confident between the posts, claiming crosses and making smart saves from Torquay attackers.
With penalties beckoning, Challinor replaced impressive centre-back Timi Odusina with the influential Luke Molyneux. The dreaded penalty shoutout was required, and Pools took first. After the first four penalties were missed, Shelton, Sterry, Molyneux, Elliott, and Donaldson scored their spot-kicks. Buse has the job of taking the vital kick, but Brad James justified his selection with a stunning left-handed save onto the crossbar.
Delirium and pandemonium followed as the boys in blue celebrated their return to the promised land. The fixtures for League 2 come out on Thursday, so it's going to be a quick turnaround for Challinor and his heroes.
Featherstone: Missed (0-0)
Waters: Missed (0-0)
Armstrong: Missed (0-0)
Wright: Missed (0-0)
Shelton: SCORED (1-0)
Hall: SCORED (1-1)
Sterry: SCORED (2-1)
Lewis: SCORED (2-2)
Molyneux: SCORED (3-2)
Little: SCORED (3-3)
Elliott: SCORED (4-3)
Evans: SCORED (4-4)
Donaldson: SCORED (5-4)
Buse: SAVED BY BRAD JAMES (5-4)
Hartlepool United: James, Sterry, Odusina (Molyneux 120), Liddle, Johnson, Ferguson (Francis-Angol 76), Featherstone, Shelton, Holohan (Donaldson 92), Oates (Elliott 72), Armstrong