Pool forget a century of struggle to stun Stoke

Hartlepool 2 Stoke City 0
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The Independent Football

The debate among Hartlepool United fans on Saturday night centred on where this momentous victory stood in their century of struggle. Did it top winning the Durham Orphanage Cup in 1924 for example? What about the Sunderland Shipowners' Cup in 1933? Or the Monkwearmouth Charity Cup triumph in 1974?

The consensus was that it did. This was as good as the 1-0 victory over Crystal Palace in the same round 16 years ago, and many reckon that to be Hartlepool's best-ever result. After all, it was the first time in the club's then 85-year history that they had beaten a top-division side. It is important to remember that Hartlepool have never been out of the bottom two divisions and that they sought re-election on more occasions than any other club. Hartlepool, moreover, have never been in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Not the final, the fifth round.

The good days have not been plentiful, so when they come along Pools celebrate enthusiastically. After Palace, Hartlepool went 13-and-a-half games without scoring, setting another unwanted Football League record.

In terms of lifeblood, beating Stoke City may not have had the significance of the victory over Scarborough back in April 1999. Those points kept Pools in the league – while Scarborough chugged towards dissolution 18 months ago and now appear as Scarborough Town in the Teesside League. Pools men dwell on that.

So that Saturday equalled the Palace '93 win said everything. What will they be thinking now they have West Ham United in the next round, and at Victoria Park? Hartlepool have never played West Ham. Not Real Madrid, West Ham.

It had been 17 years since Stoke had travelled north to Hartlepool. They did so as a club whose next three Premier League fixtures are Liverpool, Chelsea and Tottenham. With that in mind, manager Tony Pulis made seven changes from the side that lost at Upton Park eight days ago.

The stand-ins, some experienced players such as Michael Tonge and Ibrahima Sonko might have been expected to offer more than they did. Pulis certainly thought so.

Instead, after Sonko hit the post in the second minute, Stoke gradually eased off. Pools had endeavoured without much success to get out of their half in the opening 45 minutes but after the interval captain Michael Nelson led a controlled surge. Stoke's players exited the Cup lethargically.

Nelson, a 6ft 2in centre-half, scored the first goal four minutes after half-time with a commanding far-post header from Matty Robson's free-kick. Nelson, a local hero, asked afterwards not to be described as a "stalwart". Useful on the deck, he almost created a second for Joel Porter three minutes later, but with Stoke unable to respond, a second did come on 76 minutes.

Hartlepool are managerless since Danny Wilson's December dismissal. Chris Turner, caretaker here 10 years ago for that Scarborough game, has stood in again. Losing 4-1 at home to Crewe in the previous game had not boosted his standing though. Afterwards he agreed that Hartlepool are "in his bones".

When he lost striker Michael Mackay after 33 minutes, Turner sent on David Foley. Foley is a 21-year-old forward who has been on the books for five years but who is yet to register a league goal. There was no crowd roar when he skipped on. But he was soon to change that, and the perception of himself as a jinky 5ft 4in dribbler who delivers less than he promises. One of his heroes, he said, is Gianfranco Zola.

Collecting a loose ball some 30 yards out, Foley looked up, assessed his chances and let go. "It's one of them, I didn't even see it go in but I knew it was in," he said. In an eruption, Victoria Park's disbelief turned to belief.

What had Turner said to him? "He told me to go and score from 30 yards! No, he told me to hold the ball and run at people. It took a nice little bobble on the floor and sat up."

Everyone in Hartlepool sat up. All night. Smiling.

Goals: Nelson (49) 1-0, Foley (76) 2-0.

Hartlepool United (4-4-2) Lee-Barrett; Sweeney (McCunnie, 18) Collins, Nelson, Humphreys; Jones (Monkhouse, 90) Clark, Liddle, Robson; Mackay (Foley, 33) Porter. Substitutes not used: Budtz, Power, Foley, Rowell, Tait

Stoke City (4-4-2) Simonsen; Davies (Wilkinson, 72) Sonko, Shawcross, Dickinson; Soares (Lawrence, 54) Olofinjana (Kitson, 54) Whelan, Tonge; Delap, Pericard. Substitutes not used: Sorensen, Higginbotham, Diao, Faye

Referee: M Halsey (Lancashire)

Man of match: Nelson

Attendance: 5,367.