It was the expected blood and thunder clash-with a healthy dose of skill on show- at the Mitton Group Stadium last night; and when the 219-strong crowd headed into the cool night air on the Kingsway, they had plenty to reflect on, as Eccleshill United had booked their place in the Toolstation NCEL Division One Play-Off Final against Grimsby Borough after a come-from-behind extra time win over Shirebrook Town. Town had themselves been just a couple of normal time minutes from that Final place themselves –and after the Eagles 4-2 win, the Bootiful Game was fortunate enough to field post-match reaction from both sides of the equation, writes Colin Muncie.
It was quite a game. The home side led 1-0 at the break thanks to Anthony Brown’s 25th minute goal, but the men from Langwith Road turned the game on its head in five second-half minutes through Dan Williams (65 minutes) and Joe Naylor (70). With the clock running down, and the home supporters contemplating a summer of disappointment, Chris Lever struck to take the tie into an extra thirty minutes. Just before half time in extra time, Thomas Rose thundered Eccleshill back in front; and with Shirebrook throwing the kitchen sink at the Eagles in search of a late leveller, Brown broke (117) to clinch that precious Final place.
Eccleshill midfielder Charlie Flaherty was understandably elated with the victory. he told the Bootiful Game “ We’re absolutely buzzing to come away with the win in what was a very physical and hard working game in which both teams gave their all. We gave everything and so did Shirebrook. It was a brilliant game to be involved in with some brilliant goals. I need to give a mention to Tom Rose’s goal; it must have been 35 yards, and he hit it like a rocket to gain our advantage back in extra time “
In his pre-match comments, Charlie had predicted that his teammates would react positively to last-day regular season disappointment, and so it proved “To get to the Play- Off Final is massive for us” he said.”We said we would bounce back from the Ammers defeat and we showed our fight and character and did it very well. The lads are absolutely buzzing and cannot wait to go again Saturday”.
“We will take all this season’s hard work into Saturday and give our everything -as I’m sure Grimsby will as well. It’ll be a cracking Final!”
Eagles skipper Sam Bradley felt that his side proved their point last night, having fallen just short in the regular season “Well, we always like to do things the hard way”, Sam told the Bootiful Game “As I said before, the Play-Offs was the target at the start of the season, so to get so close to an automatic position was tough to take but -all in all- the lads have put in an impressive season. Nevertheless we have to now push on and get that third promotion spot”.
“This was always going to be a tough game” Sam admitted “Shirebrook beat us at the start of the season and we returned the favour near the end of the season. Shirebrook are a big strong side & have the league’s top goal scorer in their ranks so we had to be at our best. Having got that late equaliser we went into extra time full of confidence and on the front foot. It took us till the second half of extra time to get our break; two substitutions in Carlton and Tom Rose to link up play, which resulted in an outstanding volley into the top corner from Rose-one of the goals of the season”.
“The game was done when Shirebrook sent most of their lads up from the back; Browny broke free and with a lot still to do he kept calm, composed & managed to slot the ball into the bottom corner”.
Eccleshill United manager Sean Regan added, “Absolutely delighted at the outcome . Shirebrook more than tested us, however we showed character, resilience and a togetherness that was there to be witnessed by many. We looked sharp and worked very hard for each other to get such a positive result. I am so very proud of each and every one of those players and let’s hope that we can produce exactly the same result against Grimsby.”
Across the half way line, and with the Final so close, the evening turned to utter dejection for Shirebrook Town , and their Manager-and architect of a super season-Rob Camm, who was still grappling with events when he spoke to the Bootiful Game . “I’mstruggling to put anything into words, to be honest. To be so close- literally seconds from going to the Final- to complete heartbreak. It’s a difficult one to take.”
Rob knew that the late normal-time equaliser would have a massive psychological impact on his players “I thought over the ninety minutes we deserved to go through” he told us “but it was always going to be a difficult task to lift the lads in extra time after the late equaliser. Their third was a 35yard strike into the top corner, and their fourth comes on the back of us ploughing bodies forward”
Rob feels that he has the players to be challenging for honours next term; and he had kind words for the Finalists, and Shirebrook’s travelling support “We have a young squad and that will be hard for some of them to take -but we back them to bounce back and go again. They’ve been terrific for us, and I can’t thank them enough for the commitment they’ve given us. Good luck to Eccleshill and Grimsby in the final-two very good teams.
“Also, thank you to the Shirebrook supporters who made the trip. They travelled in good numbers –I just wish we could have given you the ending we all wanted”.
Whilst assistant manager Jamie Allan commented, “Thought I’d try and sleep for a few hours before responding. Obviously still a bit raw this morning. To be that that close in normal time is heart breaking, but it kind of sums up a rollercoaster of a season.
“The game itself was tight and edgy, first half it was close although we went in 1-0down. We told the lads to relax little more especially in the last 3rd as we got into good positions. Second half up until our goal eccleshill were probably the best team but once we scored it really kicked us on.
“They obviously score with the last kick of full time and extra time they managed the game well. Full credit to Shaun and Des they have an experienced team that don’t give you many chances and are organised.
“You can’t be anything but proud of what we have achieved this season with a new squad , the experienced lads have been immense this season the likes of Timo, Kieron, Joe Naylor and Adam Colton and the young lads have really come of age. We hope that they can learn from this and go on to have many more seasons like they’ve had many at a higher level.
“Huge thank you to the volunteers this season and to the fans who have backed us every game.
Lastly all the best to both Eccleshill and Grimsby Saturday, it should be a cracker.
“Time to put the feet up for a couple of weeks or so, recharge the batteries and see what happens from there.”
The Bootiful Game would like to thank Rob, Jamie Allan, Kieran Watson and everyone at Shirebrook Town for their excellent contributions this season
We’ll see Eccleshill at Saturday’s Final.
Main photograph by George Wood.