Play-off Agony For Stamford
Stamford suffered play-off heartbreak to miss out on promotion after an agonising 2-1 extra-time defeat in Saturday’s final at Bedworth United.
The Daniels had snatched a dramatic equaliser in the sixth minute of injury-time through Rob Morgan after their nemesis this season Iyseden Christie scored for the third successive game against Stamford with Bedworth’s 89th minute opener.
However, the hosts shrugged off the setback of conceding so late to grab an extra-time winner with Christie this time the provider for Levi Rowley’s crucial 109th minute strike.
Daniels boss Graham Drury admitted afterwards that his immediate reaction was a sense of failure after Stamford had missed out on their promotion goal.
He felt their failure to beat sides in the lower regions of the Evo-Stik League Division One South this season was ultimately their downfall rather than Saturday’s play-off defeat against a Bedworth side who he felt deserved plenty of plaudits.
Drury said: “We’ve got to give Bedworth a lot of credit as so many sides would have crumbled after conceding such a late goal, but they just kept going.
“Iyseden Christie has again made the difference when he came for them. We can’t seem to handle him.
“Our lads give it everything, but Bedworth gave it a bit more. Obviously I’m disappointed, but losing this game wasn’t the reason why we haven’t been promoted.
“We’ve dropped around 15 points this season against sides in the bottom six and that’s been the difference between either getting automatic promotion or getting a home tie in the play-offs.
“That has hurt us more than the play-off result and I feel a bit of a failure at the moment.
“I’m head of the group and experienced enough, but we have not done the job we set out to do this season and I’m as guilty as the players.
“It’s hard to take, but we’ve got to learn our lessons, dust ourselves down and go again.”
Drury made just one change to his starting line-up from Tuesday’s superb semi-final success at Frickley with top goalscorer Bradley Fortnam-Tomlinson coming in for the suspended Kieran Wells.
Stamford made a bright start to the promotion-winning shoot-out with home goalkeeper Daniel Crane showing early signs of nerves when he spilled a Henry Eze header before quickly regaining control of the ball before any of the Daniels could pounce.
Eliot Putman, again given a more attacking role, produced a magnificent individual run before curling his shot just over.
Bedworth then enjoyed their best spell with Elliott Parrott seeing an effort comfortably gathered by Dan Haystead.
Luke Keen fired into the side-netting for the hosts when well placed while Rowley just failed to connect with a Keen centre after some rare indecision in the Stamford rearguard.
Tom Sharpe then dragged a decent opening wide before a swift Stamford break saw Putman fire over as the first half finished goalless.
Stamford went close to breaking the deadlock early in the second period when Putman’s hooked shot was superbly touched onto the crossbar by Crane with Sharpe scrambling away the rebound.
Alex Troke fired a fierce shot over the Stamford crossbar before the introduction of Liam Adams sparked some extra impetus in the Daniels attack.
An inviting Adams cross just eluded both Jordan Smith and Fortnam-Tomlinson at the far post before Stamford struck the upright as Adams ended a great run with a fine shot which cannoned back off the post with Crane diving low to smother Fortnam-Tomlinson’s follow-up.
Bedworth countered by bringing on Christie and the much-travelled former Coventry City and Mansfield Town marksman soon made his mark on proceedings.
Adams produced a superb goalline clearance to deny Rowley with Christie the quickest to react to the follow up which he headed against the crossbar.
Adams went close after another burst forward with Greenbacks substitute Richard Blythe hooking an effort over as the contest opened up.
Luke Rowe flashed a shot narrowly wide before the hosts took the lead with just one minute of the regulatory 90 remaining.
And it was inevitable that it would be Christie who put Bedworth in front when he pounced on Rowley’s lay off to execute a superb finish.
Stamford were boosted with the fourth official signalling for six minutes of injury-time and, with Eze now up front, they launched a series of attacks on the home goal.
Their persistence paid off in the sixth minute of injury-time when a free-kick into the box sparked a melee with several Stamford players having shots blocked before Morgan hooked home a late, late leveller to send the match into extra-time.
Despite the massive disappointment of conceding so late, Bedworth responded well in the extra 30 minutes as Stamford’s epic exploits at Frickley on Tuesday started to take their toll.
Haystead made a good save to deny Keen at point blank range before Rowley fired narrowly wide.
The hosts also had strong penalty appeals turned down as Keen went down under a challenge in the box.
However, their appeals were waved away by referee Richard Gardner as the two sides ended the first period of extra-time on level terms.
However, just four minutes after the restart to the second period Bedworth regained the lead for the second time.
Christie was this time the creator as he expertly dribbled his way into the box before unleashing a shot which was blocked and fell for Rowley to smash home Bedworth’s second goal.
Unfortunately for the Daniels there was no repeat of their injury-time match-saving heroics second time around as the Greenbacks held off a couple of late aerial raids to consign Stamford to another season of step four football.
Although there will be a massive sense of disappointment at missing out on a Premier Division place, Stamford can look back on a much-improved league campaign.
They lost just once in the league at the Zeeco Stadium this season and finished the campaign with the best defensive record in the division.
They also finished 10 places higher up than last season and, with a new wave of enthusiasm among their ever-expanding support which was out in force again at Bedworth, there are plenty of reasons to be positive despite Saturday’s defeat.