2021 National League play-off Final

The 2021 National League play-off Final, known as the Vanarama National League Promotion Final for sponsorship reasons, was an association football match played on 20 June 2021 at the Ashton Gate Stadium in Bristol between Torquay United and Hartlepool United. It determined the second and final team to gain promotion from the National League, English football’s fifth tier, to EFL League Two. The team that finished first in the 2020–21 National League gained automatic promotion to League Two, while the teams placed from second to seventh participated in the play-offs. Sutton United gained the only automatic promotion spot to League Two. The winners of the semi-finals competed for the final promotion spot for the 2021–22 EFL League Two. The losing play-off quarter-finalists were Chesterfield and Bromley. In the following round, Notts County and Stockport County were eliminated in the semi-finals.

Football match
2021 National League play-off Final

The match took place at Ashton Gate Stadium.
Event 2020–21 National League
Torquay United Hartlepool United
1 1
After extra time
Hartlepool United won 5–4 on penalties
Date 20 June 2021 (2021-06-20)
Venue Ashton Gate Stadium, Bristol
Man of the Match Gary Liddle
Referee Simon Mather
Attendance 6,606
Weather Partially cloudy, 17 °C (63 °F)

The game, which was refereed by Simon Mather, was played on a partially cloudy day in front of a reduced crowd of 6,606. Hartlepool took the lead in the thirty-fifth minute through Luke Armstrong. Hartlepool managed to hold on to their lead until the ninety-fifth minute when Torquay’s goalkeeper Lucas Covolan headed in an equaliser. The match remained 1–1 after extra time, meaning that penalties would determine the outcome of the game. Hartlepool won 5–4 on penalties after a miss by Torquay’s Matt Buse meaning that Hartlepool earned promotion to the 2021–22 EFL League Two. Gary Liddle, the veteran Hartlepool defender was named the man of the match. In contrast to recent years where the final was contested at Wembley Stadium, the venue of Ashton Gate was selected to avoid clashes with UEFA Euro 2020 matches.[1] Furthermore, due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the stadium’s capacity for the match was reduced from 27,000 by approximately 75% to allow social distancing measures.[2][3]

. . . 2021 National League play-off Final . . .

National League final table, leading positions[4]
Pos Team Pld W D L GF GA GD Pts
1 Sutton United 42 25 9 8 72 36 +36 84
2 Torquay United 42 23 11 8 68 39 +29 80
3 Stockport County 42 21 14 7 69 32 +37 77
4 Hartlepool United 42 22 10 10 66 43 +23 76
5 Notts County 42 20 10 12 62 41 +21 70
6 Chesterfield 42 21 6 15 60 43 +17 69
7 Bromley 42 19 12 11 63 53 +10 69

Torquay United finished the regular 2020–21 season in second place in the National League, the fifth tier of the English football league system, two places ahead of their opponents Hartlepool United. Both therefore missed out on the only automatic promotion spot to EFL League Two and instead took part in the play-offs to determine the second team to be promoted. Torquay United finished four points behind Sutton United, whereas Hartlepool finished eight points behind the leaders.[5]

Due to the layout of the play-offs, teams who finished in 2nd and 3rd automatically qualify for the play-off semi-finals.[6] Therefore, Torquay automatically qualified for the play-off semi-final where they met fifth-place Notts County on 12 June 2021 at Plainmoor, Torquay. The Gulls took an early lead after thirty five seconds via a header by Danny Wright. The Magpies equalised before half-time with a strong header by Rúben Rodrigues. Torquay retook the lead in the 48th minute with another goal via Danny Wright with a right-footed strike from 12 yards out. Notts County then equalised for a second time only three minutes later after a corner dropped to the defender Adam Chicksen who fired into the top-left corner. After 90 minutes, the match remained level at 2–2 meaning that the match would continue into extra time. In extra time, Torquay took the lead for the third time in the match by a header from Asa Hall via a corner kick. In added time in the first half of extra time, Torquay were awarded a controversial penalty.[7]Dean Moxey stepped up to convert the penalty to guarantee Torquay’s place in the play-off final by winning 4–2.[8]

On the other hand, Hartlepool missed out on a top 3 spot on the final day of the season despite a 4–0 win against Weymouth meaning that they would have to play an additional match.[9] Therefore, Hartlepool met seventh place Bromley at Victoria Park, Hartlepool on 6 June 2021. Pools took the lead in the 17th minute after a long-ball by captain Nicky Featherstone from his own half. Top-scorer Rhys Oates managed to get to the ball before the goalkeeper Mark Cousins to make it 1–0. Three minutes later, Luke Armstrong doubled Hartlepool’s lead after a cross from Rhys Oates. In the 24th minute, Rhys Oates scored a left-footed shot from just outside of the penalty area to make it 3–0. The second half was more even and Bromley reduced the deficit with a header from a corner by James Alabi in the 48th minute. Bromley scored a second goal from a long throw-in in the 93rd minute by defender Byron Webster. However, the goal was only a consolation as Hartlepool closed out the game to guarantee their spot in the semi-final.[10]

This win against Bromley set up a semi-final match away at Stockport County on 13 June 2021 at Edgeley Park, Stockport. Stockport entered the game as strong favourites to win the play-off competition.[11] The match ended up being a tight affair with few chances for either team. Hartlepool managed to take the lead in the 76th minute with a left-footed strike from outside of the penalty area by Rhys Oates. The match stayed this way meaning that Hartlepool would end County’s 18 match unbeaten run to progress to the play-off final in Bristol.[12]

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. . . 2021 National League play-off Final . . .

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