ANGRY Darlington chairman George Reynolds last night accused Marco Gabbiadini and Hartlepool United of "dirty tricks''.

Reynolds fumed and fans were left stunned after Gabbiadini - recently voted Quakers' greatest-ever player - signed a one-year contract with fierce rivals Pool after spending four days training with Mick Tait's men.

A return to the club where he achieved hero status thanks to a scintillating spell which yielded 53 goals in 96 appearances from 1998-2000 looked imminent.

He had been training with the Darlington squad this week at Maiden Castle, but last night signed a one-year deal at Victoria Park, where he will spearhead the Pool attack in Division Two next season.

Reynolds - who was left humiliated when Tino Asprilla walked out on the club last season after the chairman firmly believed a deal had been struck - fumed: "I cannot believe it.

"I don't know whether the stadium is getting under their skin and this is their way of getting back.

"It's a dirty trick. He has trained with us all week and then does this to us. We talked terms and discussed a contract - he has used us to get a better deal.

"I'm very annoyed about it all. Gabbiadini rang me and said sorry and said had he had to think about his wife and family but I put the phone down on him.''

And Reynolds - who a fortnight ago told fans he was on the verge of making a signing which would have supporters "doing cartwheels" admitted the collapse of the Gabbiadini deal has led to a double transfer blow.

He said: "Mick has been working on this for a long time and because of it we've lost out on another signing. We've lost out on Tommy Mooney - we put that deal on hold to try and get Marco and now we've lost both.''

Mooney earlier this week signed for Swindon after his release from Birmingham.

Gabbiadini's decision is another snub to Reynolds and Tait who have seen transfer targets Tom Newey, Sam Aiston, Richard Hope, James Sharp and Jim Corbett all reject possible moves to the Reynolds Arena.

Hope is currently on trial at Pool and to add to the misery defender Stuart Whitehead has left to sign for Telford.

Gabbiadini, 35, who netted 14 goals last season, said: "Hartlepool is one of the clubs I identified as a possible move earlier in the close season - I saw they were promoted and were an ideal candidate.

"I was impressed with their attacking style of football which suits me and I am pleased to stay in the Second Division.

"I realise there may be a bit of history with some of the fans with me being at Darlington, but I don't think it will be a problem. I think it might have been more difficult if I moved directly.''

Satisfied Pool boss Neale Cooper admitted: "He's a player we've been looking at for a few days now and, of course, we are delighted to get him.

"We've had nothing but good reports on him. We've looked at the situation and obviously we have a few strikers, but they are mainly young and Marco Gabbiadini is a proven goalscorer with plenty of experience.

"He's fantastically fit and is in great shape. Going up a division you need players with experience of that level - he knows what it is all about.''

He added: "He trained elsewhere this morning and then we met up with him in the afternoon. Talks went very well and we were all pleased to tie it up quickly.

"Of course there is the Darlington rivalry, but it's not something that means a lot to me yet. But I was a Rangers player when Maurice Johnston signed for them from Celtic and he produced the goods and the supporters loved him.

"Score goals like you are supposed to and your past never comes into it.''

Gabbiadini's last visit to Victoria Park in 2000 ended in controversy. After netting Quakers second goal from the penalty spot to secure a 2-0 play-off victory, he was punched by a home supporter as he left the pitch.

Pool never traced the culprit and were fined by the FA for failing to control their fans.

Gabbiadini's playing days at Feethams ended with a play-off win over their rivals. His final game in a black and white shirt was at Wembley as Quakers lost to Peterborough.

As part of David Hodgson's play-off squad, Gabbiadini was one of the players whose wages were exposed by Reynolds in The Northern Echo.

The squad was later publicly criticised by Reynolds' wife Susan, who said at an acrimonious fans' forum at Feethams: "It isn't unknown for games to be thrown deliberately at this time of year by way of favours."

Former Pool boss Chris Turner tried to sign the ex-Sunderland man in October 2000 after his move to Northampton.

Gabbiadini, whose brother Ricardo played five times on loan for Pool in 1990 without scoring, has signed a one-year deal.

The pair will join their new teammates on next week's tour of Holland.

* Ex-Pool defender James Sharp is to sign a one-year contract with Scottish first division side Falkirk

What the fans say

I'M really gutted Gabbiadini hasn't signed but it's another target that has been and gone and I don't blame him if he's been offered more money and the chance to play in a higher division. If Gabbiadini wasn't the cartwheel signing then who is? We are becoming quite predictable now: target a player - then another club signs him up. I'm really worried that we're going to end up with no new signings as the season is not far away, and we have less of a squad than last year.

David Aiken, Darlington

IT was to be a great re-signing. The prodigal son, or old man, returns home. But once again Darlington fans are left dismayed and speechless by another transfer collapse. Last time it was Tino, which we sort of knew would all end in tears. But now it's our old mate, hero, God, yes Gabbiadini. I wonder why Gabbiadini spent all week training with The Quakers only to travel on Thursday afternoon up the road to our biggest rivals and join them. Well he has now joined the club where a fan punched him after the play-off victory at Victoria Park. But was Gabbas getting his own back at the club which said three years ago that he was past it? Only Gabbas knows that.

Scott Thornberry, webmaster of the Darlo Uncovered website

I don't blame Gabbiadini so much for going to Hartlepool because he's looking for a club, but he could've gone to Carlisle or somewhere else up here.

Dave Smith, South Shields

The fact that Marco Gabbiadini has joined Hartlepool in just the latest in a long line of kicks in the teeth of long suffering fans.

Darlington fan David Robinson, who now lives in Hartlepool

I was totally shocked when I heard the news. I'm a taxi driver and was working when it happened - it was all people were talking about in my cab!

I'm hoping to get away to Holland next week and if Marco is playing it should be well worth the trip. We have needed a new striker and it's a real kick in the teeth for Darlington fans.

Steve Sharp, Hartlepool

Really shocked, very surprised and most certainly impressed with the signature of Marco. Many Pool fans, I'm sure, will forgive him playing for the enemy if he helps us consolidate life in division two after our promotion last season. He's a natural goalscorer, still very fit, and his experience will help the younger players like Boyd and Richardson no end. If he can score 15 goals plus, I'm sure all Pools fans will be doing cartwheels!

John Rooke, Hartlepool.

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