Pools Women were knocked out of the Durham County Cup at Chester-le-Street Town on Sunday despite a spirited performance against their National League hosts.
Jonathan Gibbon-Hayes’ side were big underdogs for the quarter-final tie but gave as good as they got during a pulsating encounter which eventually finished 5-3 to the home team.
Pools began the game on the front foot and stunned Chester-le-Street when they took the lead with just a minute gone when Justine Robinson was fouled in the area and Jenni Duffy-Smith celebrated her return to the side by converting from the penalty spot.
However, the lead didn’t last long as the hosts immediately broke with pace down the left flank and a neat finish provided an instant equaliser.
Pools showed great composure in the period which followed and created a number of chances, looking dangerous from set-pieces, but couldn’t find a route to goal.
Robinson, Robyn Foster and Kate Hampson were causing the home defence all kinds of problems and all three combined just before the quarter-hour mark to engineer an opportunity but Hampton volleyed just over.
The impressive Robinson came even closer to putting Pools back in front five minutes later when her strike from twenty-five yards came down off the underside of the bar but stayed out.
Pools were also defending with determination when required but they were thankful to goalkeeper Becks Lillystone for a fine save down to her right as Chester-le-Street probed for a second goal.
Duffy-Smith then saw a free-kick blocked on the line and Pools couldn’t force in the rebound before the hosts went in front for the first time just before half-time from a penalty awarded for handball.
Gibbon-Hayes’ girls refused to lie down though and came close to levelling early in the second period when Foster saw a shot saved by the keeper, while Sarah Rowbotham was also denied by a good save and then Robinson fired just over.
Just after the hour a sucker-punch arrived for Pools though as Chester-le-Street extended their lead with a powerful shot in to the top corner of the net.
At 3-1 it looked as though it was game over – but Pools rallied again and showed terrific character to pull a goal back on 67 minutes when Duffy-Smith’s inswinging corner was volleyed home by Hampson.
Remarkably, Pools levelled things up with 13 minutes remaining. Robyn Ingram beat two players in the centre of the pitch before moving forward to unleash an unstoppable drive from almost 35 yards which flew in to the net.
It seemed as though a penalty shootout would be required to separate the sides but, with just four minutes to go, Chester-le-Street scored a superb fourth goal to break Pools’ hearts.
The National League side then made sure of their passage through to the final four of the competition with a killer goal at the end, with Pools caught out as they committed bodies forward in the search for another equaliser.
“I am so proud of my players,” admitted Gibbon-Hayes afterwards.
“I am gutted to lose the game but the way we performed today has got to give us huge confidence for the rest of the league campaign.
“We dominated for long periods against a top six side in the league above us and many neutrals were impressed with the way we played.
“Everyone, from back to front, was absolutely incredible and the spirit and togetherness we showed is something money can’t buy.”
Full Time: Chester-le-Street Town 5 Pools 3
Pools: Lillystone, Bartlett, Stuart, Duffy-Smith, Hanratty, Rowbotham, Robson (Lambert 76), Ingram, Robinson, Hampson, Foster.
Subs not used: Hammond-Garrington.