Bradford Park Avenue’s season was brought to an abrupt end as Aaron Williams’ 110th minute winner condemned Mark Bower’s side to defeat in the play-off semi-finals.
After the heroics of the previous weeks, Avenue named an unchanged starting eleven for their third meeting with Wembley-bound Brackley Town.
The opening fifteen minutes were tense, and understandably so considering the prize at stake. Successive deliveries from the left from Shane Killock failed to pay dividends, as both were hooked clear by the impressive Gareth Dean.
Brackley were soon appealing for a penalty as Steven Drench collided with Aaron Williams as the pair contested a loose ball but the official ignored the protests.
As the hosts began to take control of the game, James Armson spread the ball wide to Williams before darting into the box and getting on the end of his teammates’ cross. His header, however, couldn’t find the right side of the crossbar.
Williams continued to cause problems with his deliveries and the imposing Dean proved to be a threat in the air. The latter headed wide from a Williams cross and was ignored by the official whilst claiming he was shoved as he made a connection with the ball.
Avenue finally carved Brackley open when Frank Mulhern slipped through to Jamie Spencer, who saw his low drive deflected wide by the outstretched leg of Matt Lowe.
The visitors began to hit their stride as the half-time whistle approached and Spencer’s drilled effort fizzed agonisingly wide of the post.
Opportunities become increasingly frequent after the break and the Saints very nearly broke the deadlock through skipper Dean. He arched a header goal wards after meeting a Glenn Walker delivery but was thwarted by Nicky Wroe, who hooked off the line.
Avenue did, however, have opportunities of their own and Danny Lewis produced a string of spectacular saves to deny Avenue an opener. A powerful drive from Mulhern was tipped over the crossbar by the Saints stopper, who would prove to be impossible to beat.
Steven Drench then provided an impressive stop of his own, diving to palm a well-struck Shane Byrne shot wide of the post.
Mulhern had already tested Lewis with a drive from distance and did so again when his thunderbolt of a strike was scooped over the crossbar by the in-form goalkeeper.
He continued to be a thorn in Avenue’s side, keeping out a powerful strike from Oli Johnson in impressive fashion.
With both sides feeling the effects of the gruelling sun and competitive nature of the game, there was a lull in entertainment as the final whistle approached.
Avenue did, however, almost nick a last-gasp winner when Spencer slid across the box to Johnson who was dispossessed by Dean at the vital moment.
Boyes then failed to maintain his composure after Luca Havern had flicked into his path, drilling his effort straight at Lewis.
After the sides couldn’t be separated in normal time, extra-time was required to find a winner.
Five minutes into extra-time, Johnson was teed up by Boyes but saw his strike cannon off the back of Dean before being hacked clear.
Substitute Andy Brown then came close but could only find the stand behind the goal with his looped header.
On the stroke of the extra-time interval, Drench produced one of the most remarkable saves witnessed this season, tipping a Williams header on to the post when the net seemed destined to bulge.
Brackley delivered the fatal blow five minutes after the extra-time break as Williams stabbed into the bottom corner despite the ball seemingly being handled in the build-up.
Lewis ensured that the Saints advanced into the play-off final with an excellent stop to keep out a late strike from Wroe, before Ryan Toulson squandered Avenue’s final chance by skewing wide after the ball had fallen kindly for him on the edge of the box.
Brackley Town: Lewis, Lowe, Franklin, Byrne, Gudger, Dean (c), G. Walker (Murombedzi 90’), Armson, Ndlovu (Brown 91’), Williams, A. Walker.
Unused substitutes: Graham, Iaciofano.
Bradford Park Avenue: Drench, Ross, Atkinson, Wroe (c), Killock, Havern, Brooksby (Boshell 61’), Spencer (Toulson 109’), Boyes, Johnson (Vidal 98’), Mulhern.
Unused substitutes: Hall, Smith.
Referee: Martin Woods