LAST year’s highlight was a play-off victory at Ashton Gate – in 2022, Hartlepool United fans are dreaming of seeing their team win silverware at Wembley.

Having seen off League One Bolton Wanderers in a hard-fought Papa John’s Trophy last-16 game last night, Pools are just two wins away from a final at the national stadium. With Sunderland having claimed the Trophy last season, perhaps the silverware is set to stay in the North-East.

Graeme Lee’s side had to dig deep at the Suit Direct Stadium last night, with their defenders throwing themselves in front of a succession of Bolton shots, and their commitment was rewarded in the 84th minute when Joel Dixon’s goalkeeping howler left Matty Daly with the simple task of skipping around the stranded shot-stopper before rolling the ball into an empty net.

Daly’s winner secured Pools’ place in tomorrow’s last-eight draw, and enabled their manager, Graeme Lee, to dream of emulating the Trophy success he achieved as a player with Doncaster Rovers.

“It would be something special to go to Wembley,” said Lee. “As soon as we got back into the dressing room, everyone was asking, ‘When’s the draw?’

“It’s exciting. We’ll all be looking at the draw and looking at the next challenge, but then we’ll be concentrating on Blackpool (who visit Hartlepool in the FA Cup third round on Saturday) and I’m more interested in the league as well.

“They’re totally different games to these types of games. We’re playing opposition from a league above and we have to set up slightly differently. When we’re playing teams in our league, it’s probably more of a scrap and a fight.

“I’m delighted for the lads tonight though. They really grafted. They had to do a lot of work and be disciplined in their shape. They had to work for each other, and they stuck to it really well.

“It was important they kept going, and although people might say it’s a bit of luck at the end, I think it’s clever play from Matty. He’s read the situation and then his composure to finish at the end was fantastic.”

The Papa John’s Trophy has been good to Pools this season, with December’s win over Sheffield Wednesday at Hillsborough having ensured Antony Sweeney’s caretaker spell in charge ended on a high. Now, Lee has a notable League One scalp on his CV too, despite having made seven changes to the side that drew with Oldham in the league last weekend.

With his Bolton team scrapping for their lives in the bottom half of League One, Ian Evatt handed a couple of debuts to emerging youngsters, and given the makeshift nature of both line-ups, it was hardly surprising that the game lacked fluency for long spells.

Pools threatened in the seventh minute when Luke Molyneux, starting as the central striker in a front three, saw a shot blocked in the area after some neat build-up play involving Joe Grey, and went close again a few minutes later when Daly turned in the area and fired in a low shot that Dixon saved.

Bolton sparked into life on the quarter-hour mark when Dion Charles’ low shot from Marlon Fossey’s cross was deflected wide, and created the best chance of the opening 45 minutes shortly after when Elias Kachunga threaded a ball through for Nathan Delfouneso, only for the former Aston Villa and Blackburn forward to sweep a first-time effort wide.

Oladapo Afolayan also saw a first-half strike deflect narrowly wide of the upright, with the Pools backline doing a sterling job of producing blocks and last-ditch interceptions in their own 18-yard box. Timi Odusina, in particular, seemed to be attracted to wherever Bolton’s attackers were shooting.

As result, the interval arrived without either goalkeeper having been seriously tested, and the same was still true when Daly fired over nine minutes into the second half after Grey prodded the ball back into his path.

Ben Killip had been little more than a spectator for the opening hour, but the Pools goalkeeper was sharp when he needed to be in the 62nd minute, keeping out Afolayan’s low effort with his boot after the Bolton forward twisted into space in the box.

The visitors’ dominance of possession became even more pronounced in the closing stages, but as had been the case all evening, the Pools rearguard remained supremely well-disciplined, with Martin Smith and Tom Crawford both covering a large amount of ground in midfield to protect those stationed behind them.

The game looked to be heading towards penalties as the clock ticked past the 84th-minute mark, but its decisive moment would arrive courtesy of a dreadful error from Dixon in the Bolton goal.

The Middlesbrough-born goalkeeper began his career in Sunderland’s academy, but he will not have fond memories of his latest return to his home region after his awful attempt to play out from the back presented the ball straight to Daly.

The Pools midfielder could barely believe his luck, and after skipping around the stranded Dixon, he gleefully rolled the ball into an empty net.

Hartlepool (4-3-3): Killip; Jones, Odusina, Byrne, Francis-Angol; Crawford, Daly, Smith (Featherstone 76); Olomola (Fondop 82), Molyneux, Grey (Ferguson 90).

Bolton (4-3-3): Dixon; Fossey, Santos, Johnston, John; Thomason, Williams, Delfouneso; Kachunga (Bakayoko 54), Charles (Doyle 61), Afolayan.