HARTLEPOOL UNITED have earned a place in the third round of the FA Cup. It’s a shame their reward is only a game at Oxford United, because on this performance they deserve so much more.

Trailing 2-0 at Exeter 11 days ago, Pools came back to draw and earn a replay.

At Victoria Park in the replay they fully merited their win, the goal a touch of class in a thoroughly entertaining game.

Josh Hawkes was the match-winner, his deft shot angling across the visiting goalkeeper to earn Pools over £50,000 for their victory.

The Grecians boss Matt Taylor admitted Pools were good value for their win, that Dave Challinor’s side were the better team on the night.

“It’s been a bruising 120 minutes for us,’’ he reflected. “Two teams going at it all game, all night and sometimes you have to hold your hands up and say Hartlepool deserved it.

Some 36 places separated the teams in the footballing ladder, with the Grecians at the top end of League Two. But this wasn’t a case of a non league club raising their game, it was a case of a team showing what it is capable of doing.

The Grecians seemed to target Pools’ left-back Mark Kitching early on, with plenty of pressure coming down their right-hand side.

But Kitching was given support in numbers and Pools snuffed out the threat.

Pools had a couple of early forays, Gime Toure prominent in and around the area.

First chance of the night came to the visitors. From a Pools attack, as Toure lost possession, they broke away into space.

Lee Martin’s shot was arrowed across goal and flew wide.

Then it was Pools’ turn. Right-back Kenton Richardson crossed deep for the advancing Kitching, but he bounced his finish wayward.

Ryan Donaldson, Pools’ skipper, cut inside from the right side and his rising shot was no trouble for keeper Jon Maxted.

Luke James was a willing worker up front, even winning headers against the defenders and his running was causing endless problems.

Toure was always involved, his talent to the fore. Equally prominent was his ability to frustrate. Twice he got into promising positions in the penalty area, getting tight towards the six-yard box and goalline, but couldn’t produce.

From a corner, awarded strangely by referee Scott Oldham, Ben Killip missed the flight of the ball and as it bounced to the far post, Lee Martin’s shot was on its way in before it hit the back of namesake Aaron and Pools cleared.

The Grecians were swift on the break, always looking to break in numbers from a strong defensive base, with Lee Martin and Nicky Law prominent.

But from a Pools attack, with a glorious ball across the six-yard area, visiting defender Pierce Sweeney almost poked the ball into his own net.

A cross from the left by Archie Collins then turned into a shot as Killip had to backpedal and push the ball off the line.

Michael Raynes lifted a dangerous cross from under his own crossbar as the visitors turned up the pressure.

James was forced off, after taking a hit while counter-attacking, Nicke Kabamba taking his place.

The substitute won a tackle on the edge of the area and the ball fell for Toure, right in his path. A touch ahead and his shot only hit the roof of the Rink End. It was looking like that sort of night.

Toure opened up the defence on the left, his cut back finding Hawkes. A first-time drive was in all the way but deflected wide.

Three minutes into extra time and the deadlock was broken.

Toure might have been an enigma all evening, but his ball slipped in for Hawkes was delightfully weighted. That was why Challinor kept him on.

The midfielder slid in behind into space and turned a fierce shot on the turn across and beyond Maxted.

The Grecians hit back, a corner hit the post, the follow up shot saved by the diving Killip.

Wing-back Jack Sparkes was red carded on 108 minutes, a second booking for hauling back Toure.

Kabamba almost finished it off with 90 seconds to go, his shot heading for goal before being deflected over.

Pools should be going to the other St James’ Park or the like after beating Exeter, not just the Kassam Stadium. More of these heroics and they could yet book a fourth round date there.



Goals: 1-0 (93, Hawkes)

Bookings: Sparkes (77, foul); Collins (88, foul); Toure (90, foul); Kitching (104, foul)

Sending-off: Sparkes (116, second yellow card)

Referee: Scott Oldham (Poulton) 6

Attendance: 2,398

Entertainment: 4/5

HARTLEPOOL UNITED (4-4-2): Killip 7; Richardson 8, Raynes 7, KERR 8, Kitching 6; Mafuta 6, Featherstone 8, Donaldson 5, Hawkes 7 (Crichlow-Noble 102, 6); Toure 7 (Holohan 114), James 7 (Kabamba 58, 7). Subs (not used): Muir, Kennedy, Grey, Shepherd.

EXETER CITY (3-5-2): Maxted 6; Sweeney 6, A Martin 7, Parkes 6; Richardson 5 (Williams 57, 6), Collins 6, LAW 7, Taylor 7 (Moxey 92, 5), Sparks 6; L Martin 6 (Fisher 62, 5), Bowman 5 (Atangana 82, 5). Subs (not used): Visser, Jay, Seymour.

MAN OF THE MATCH: FRASER Kerr – solid and committed when Pools had to defend.