Yate, Cinderford braced for mouthwatering Bank Holiday Monday play-off cruncher
YATE Town and visitors Cinderford Town lock horns for a mouthwatering Evo-Stik Southern League One South play-off final cruncher this Bank Holiday Monday (Lodge Road, 3pm) - knowing BOTH teams could still miss out on promotion to the Premier Division, writes Simon Parkinson.
Cinderford, who squeezed into the play-offs as last of the sides occupying the four places up for grabs, overcame big Gloucestershire rivals Cirencester Town 2-1 in come-from-behind fashion in front of an enthralled 411 Corinium Stadium turn-out on Wednesday night, at the same time Yate, who completed their programme in third place and four points ahead of Ciren, were seeing off Moneyfields on home soil in thrilling penalty shoot-out circumstances.
After a goalless first 90 minutes Olly Mehew had handed Yate the lead 12 minutes into extra-time, only for gritty guests Moneyfields to respond two minutes later to force spot kicks.
Mercifully the Bluebells were spot on with their takes, Nick Peare thudding home the vital fifth goal for a 5-3 success, sparking scenes of unbridled celebration amongst the majority of the 337 crowd.
Relieved boss Paul Britton beamed as he mopped his brow: “What these players of mine put me through eh!
“With so much at stake it was a very entertaining game, despite the politics going on relating to promotion issues.
“It was a great occasion for us; right up there with anything I have experienced in my time with Yate and I’m sure that goes for many others at the club.
“The atmosphere during the penalty shoot-out was something else with all the jeering, cheering and banging of barriers. It was like something you’d experience in the Football League.”
Asked how his own nerve had held out ahead and during a major occasion for him and his club, the former Mangotsfield United Reserves, Oldland Abbotonians, Longwell Green Sports and Bitton supremo smiled: “I’d been a bit apprehensive approaching it but as a manager you try not to transmit any nerves to your players.
“I’m a character that’s usually full of beans and I was excited more than nervous.
“It’s been a strange few weeks as we’d had a great opportunity to win the league outright, only to lose 4-1 to (eventual title winners) Blackfield and Langley at our place, having got it back to 1-1 at one stage.
“It was more difficult than we thought it would be picking ourselves up after that setback. Strangely enough our next game was against Cinderford who thrashed us 5-1, so it was clearly still embedded in our minds, that Blackfield blow.
“That all but finished us off. We’d bounced back hard from setbacks every time throughout the season and maybe the psychological aspect of being right up there in the mix for so long and losing out like that so late in the day took its toll.
“We had to refocus and although we failed even to finish runners-up; thankfully we’ve had this third opportunity through the play-offs.”
Britton said of the gripping Moneyfields semis: “There hadn’t been too many chances at either end during the goalless 90 minutes but both teams were certainly committed to winning the game.
“We took the lead three minutes before half-time of extra-time, only to concede straight away which we’ve had a habit of doing.
“There was still a lot of huffing and puffing and not a lot of goalmouth action after that. In the end it boiled down to one of their pens hitting the bar and bouncing down on the line, and our Nick Peare, who is a confident character, to put the winning pen past their keeper, who managed to get a hand to it but was simply beaten for power.
“I think my assistant John Lester had been even more nervous than me during the shoot-out, pacing his technical area and such-like!
“The scenes of jubilation after that will live long in the memory; supporters mobbing players and all that. It was great for the hard-working people of Yate Town and the fresh faces who have come to watch us.
“There’s a group who follow us by train to away games calling themselves the LRE – Lodge Road End – which has been brilliant.”
In a final twist to an absorbing saga, Yate enter Monday’s Cinderford showdown knowing that even victory might not be enough to secure them a place in next season’s Premier Division.
Britton said: “It’s all about a points-per-game scenario affecting teams nationally at Step 4 level. Cinderford come to us knowing they have already missed out on that front, which must be tough as they did get into the play-offs.
“It was the same for Moneyfields but you would never have known it as they gave it their all, just as we know Cinderford will do and clearly did do in beating Cirencester in the other semi-final.
“We are in the hands of what happens in other play-off finals nationally but we can’t be thinking about what may or may not happen as we first have to do the business against Cinderford.
“I am 100 per cent mindful of what they bring to the table as a couple of weeks back they gave us that good hiding. If we defend like we did that day we won’t do ourselves any favours.
“Unfortunately we won’t have our right-back Elliot Keightley available as he was sent off in extra-time on Wednesday for a last-man offence and it’s a shame as he’s been different class for us.
“Everyone’s gutted he’ll miss out but it will give Mayson Evans the chance to step back in, so I have no qualms there.”
Cinderford, meanwhile, entered their own midweek away clash with Cirencester knowing already they did not have sufficient points under the FA’s 2018-19 directives not to gain entry back to the Southern League’s top flight.
Yet that didn’t stop Paul Michael’s men edging an impressive 2-1 win on the Corinium 3G and in come-from-behind circumstances too after Alan Griffin’s overhead effort had handed the hosts the lead around the hour mark.
Home celebrations were quickly muted as Craig Norman first equalised for Cinderford two minutes on before a jubilant Josh Hunt struck the winning blow five minutes from time.
Delighted manager Michael enthused: “I certainly think that coming into the game knowing we couldn’t gain promotion enabled us to play with more freedom.
“I know that because when we played Winchester City in our last game of the season needing a point to get into the play-offs, you could see a definite anxiety in our performance.
“Against Cirencester there was nothing to lose; the pressure was off and the boys played really well and confidently in possession.
“We were the better team although we didn’t take our chances in the first half. They then scored a good goal from a set-piece but equalising so quickly afterwards as we did helped us.
“Even though we can’t go up we want to prove we’re the best team in these play-offs and we’re really looking forward to going to Yate and playing on an excellent pitch.”
Referring to that recent 5-1 mauling meted out by his team on Yate, Michael emphasised: “It’s going to be a completely different game this time.
“What happened that day will have no bearing on this one, other than to fire Yate up even more. So we’ll have to be ready for that.
“It’s a strange situation as Yate could be in the same boat as us when it comes to promotion prospects as they need other results to go their way, even if they beat us.
“For me none of it is fair as we play in a highly-competitive league; we’ve reached this far and yet we’re being compared with teams we don’t even compete against.”