Football: Force eight carries Shilton on: Second Division

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Hartlepool United 1

Peverell 71

Plymouth Argyle 8

Marshall 29, McCall 39, Landon 42 50 77, Dalton 43 89, Castle 59.

Attendance: 2,382

PLYMOUTH Argyle equalled their record victory but to no avail, as Port Vale's success at Brighton meant that second place and automatic promotion to the First Division remained beyond the reach of the Devon club.

Peter Shilton must now hope that his side can maintain their scoring form in the play- offs, where they meet Burnley in the two-leg semi-finals. Argyle approached yesterday's game knowing that they had to win, and then hope for slip-ups by Vale and Stockport, and six corners won in the first 15 minutes was ample evidence of their determination.

Hapless Hartlepool, already relegated, were never in contention - which was hardly surprising as they face a High Court winding-up order and their players have been refusing to train, in protest at not being paid for several weeks. They held out for half-an-hour but their heads were down by the interval, by which time they were four behind.

Dwight Marshall, set up by Paul Dalton, started the rout with a well-placed, low drive, before Argyle took total command with three goals in five minutes just before the break. Steve McCall, once of Ipswich, shot home through a crowd of players, Richard Landon stooped to bury a powerful header from a cross by Keith Hill, and Dalton, back at his old club, curled in a direct free-kick from 20 yards.

If the home team were hoping that Plymouth would take it easy after the break, they were soon disappointed. Breaking with pace from deep defence, Mark Patterson, the right-back, surged to the by-line and crossed for Landon to knock in his second. On the hour, it was six, as Steve Castle, the captain and top scorer, met Marshall's cross with a first-time shot.

To ironic cheers from their fans, who were heavily outnumbered by the visitors, Hartepool pulled a goal back through Nick Peverell, after a fumble by Alan Nicholls. Another goalkeeping error, by Steve Jones, allowed Landon - discovered by Shilton at non-League Bedworth - to complete his hat-trick.

Dalton beat a tired offside trap to slam home his second in the final minute. An 800-mile round trip, eight goals, but no champagne - yet. Shilton has assembled a team capable of playing pleasing football of high quality, and a place in the play- off final at Wembley would be just reward for their efforts.