PETER Hartley will treasure the goal that took Argyle to Wembley for only the second time in the club’s history – although maybe not the immediate celebrations that followed.
The Pilgrims’ centre-back headed the Pilgrims into the Sky Bet League 2 Play-Off Final, scoring in the first minute of injury-time at Home Park to give Argyle a 1-0 semi-final second-leg win over Portsmouth after the sides had drawn Thursday’s first leg 2-2.
The Greens, who triumphed in their only other visit to the Home of Football in 1996, will play the winners of the Accrington Stanley-AFC Wimbledon semi-final on Monday, May 30.
“I can’t put it into words, to be honest,” said Peter, when asked how it felt to secure the victory in the most dramatic style when his initial header from Graham Carey’s corner rebounded to him off the back of defender Enda Stevens’ head. “It’s surreal.
“I remember connecting with the ball; I saw it hit the back of the boy’s head, then it hit my head again and has gone in. Then I woke up and there was some big bald guy kissing me in the face in the Devonport end.
“Do you know what? If any team in this league deserves what we got in the 91st minute, it’s us because Exeter did us, Accrington have done us, late on and we deserved that bit of luck. I thought we were phenomenal today. We set up perfectly to nullify Portsmouth’s threat and I think we looked like a real good outfit. I don’t think Accrington or AFC Wimbledon will fancy playing us at Wembley.”
The win was testimony to Argyle’s unending fitness and never-say-die attitude, even if Peter was beginning to feel the effects of a long hard season when he strode forward to claim a historic Argyle goal.
He said: “I remember seeing the board go up for two minutes [added time] and I thought ‘That’s short’ because we had four minutes in the first half. I remember running up for the corner and I was cramping up, and I thought ‘I hope [Portsmouth] don’t break because I won’t be able to get back!’
“It’s credit to the boys, because we work really hard every day; we don’t get many days off, and we don’t moan – we just get in and get on with it – and you could see how our fitness shone through at the end. I think we had Pompey on the ropes from 20 minutes to go.
“The job’s not done yet. We’ll enjoy this moment because moments are memories, but we have got to go to Wembley now and do the business to get this club back where it belongs.”