Crunch time – it’s the play-offs…
(1885 Bury score first):
York City <National League North Play-Off 1st Round> (a):
In the very first minute at Bootham Crescent (possibly the last-ever match played at the historic stadium), the Minstermen could’ve taken the lead. Winger Elliott Durrell, having previously been a free agent following a long spell at Macclesfield Town, floated a dangerous ball in for opposite winger Alex Kempster – his header ought to have been a goal, but he instead conspired to rattle the crossbar. Top scorer James Morris’ lob dipped but still cleared Anthony Patterson’s own goalmouth. The custodian then got down well to save from a long run and shot from Shakers winger Simeon Oure. York were having more of the chances as half-time sounded, but honours were still even.
Morris could’ve done more on the counter when set free by Dylon Meredith just before the hour mark – Patterson stood firm to deny him a crucial opener. The second half as a whole was a far more attritional affair, as could be expected with the stakes so high. Extra-time was needed…
Straight away, Kyle McFarlane hit the side netting from a favourable angle for the hosts. That aside, it was tighter than ever.
Their full-backs were understandably getting tired, so I set sub Ellis Hudson and Oure to attack them more directly in an effort to make a breakthrough. With time ticking away, Josh Eccles thought he’d won it for the men in red and blue, only for Liam Landers to pull off a crucial save.
James Morris – O
Elliott Durrell – X
Denilson Carvalho – O
Tom Crawford – O
Jason Fletcher – O
Sean Newton – O
James Cook – O
Josh Eccles – O
It all came down to the last pair of takers…
Alfie Raw – O
Even so, there are still two (potential) matches to play, and because of the seedings, the next/final one will also be on the road…
Darlington <National League North Semi-Final> (a):
Much like the previous match, a goal could’ve been scored after mere seconds. Alfie Raw, the hero from sudden death, thought he’d done just that…. but not all the ball had crossed the line. It did 15 minutes later – James Yates laid it on a plate for Morris to rifle home his 25th and most important strike of the campaign. Cameron Taylor charged down a Quakers shot soon after to preserve the nascent lead. A well-worked move from a corner for the hosts resulted in the equaliser – Jack Bainbridge squeezed a shot in at the near post. Meredith bended an effort in from the edge of the area, but it whistled wide. Oure was then forced off with an injury, which brought a close to the first half.
His replacement Hudson ought to have done better with a presentable chance from a Morris lay-off, only to see it fly over the crossbar. The latter profited once from a full-back’s whipped cross to restore the advantage with less than 20 minutes on the clock. I decided to try to see the tie out, bringing on Alex Honeyball in a switch to a five-man defence, tasked with smashing everything that comes his path clear. It appeared to be working… until the dying moments. Ben Hedley used his noggin to take another game to extra-time!
In the second period, Morris got the matchball – a free-kick from deep by James Cook flew over the Darlington backline, and the hitman showed ice-cool composure to hit a low volley into the far corner. Challis Johnson was brought on to keep things that way as a target man, looking to relive the inevitable pressure that would be wrought on the Shakers. It didn’t come to pass! The final awaits!
Southport <National League North Play-off Final> (a):
Oure shook off his injury in time for the big decider, and supplied the perfect corner for Morris, but Sandgrounders custodian Alex Handford was equal to it. Carvalho had his own off-target effort that had Handford rooted to the spot. Efforts were raining down on the hosts at Haig Avenue, and Southport didn’t have one to their name in the whole first half.
Oure’s return to the fold proved to be pivotal – an errant header in the penalty area fell kindly to him, and the French 19 year-old showed maturity beyond his tender age to put 1885 Bury minutes away from what had almost always seemed to be an unlikely promotion over the course of the season. Hudson could’ve sealed it from a direct free-kick, and was unfortunate not to see his curler hit the target. Morris then missed a sitter… and was duly punished. Kieran Glynn’s 30-yard piledriver dashed dreams of fifth tier football.
Former Lincoln City ‘lump’ Matt Rhead twice wasted gilt-edged opportunities to give the Lancashire outfit an undeserved lead, and Morris had a clearly offside goal chalked off in response.
Matt Rhead – X
James Morris – O
Tommy Smith – O
Denilson Carvalho – O
Russell Benjamin – O
Ro Vieira – O
Senior – O
Cameron Taylor – O
Morgan – O
Alex Honeyball – O
… And the board, delighted as they might be, still only rate my management as a ‘B-‘, despite promotion!
Check back next week for the tumult that will need to happen over the summer to ensure a swift return to the sixth doesn’t happen, including whether turning fully professional can happen within the confines of the Buryball rules…