Heroic Avenue Seal Semi-Final Spot With Sixth Straight Win

Bradford Park Avenue stormed into the semi-finals of the play-offs with a 2-0 win over favourites Kidderminster Harriers.

 The clinical front two of Adam Boyes and Oli Johnson both weighed in with goals as Avenue ensured they would be Brackley Town’s opponents in a semi-final showdown on Sunday.

Mark Bower saw no need to make any changes following last Saturday’s win over John Eustace’s side, naming an unchanged starting eleven.

The opening exchanges were tense and nervy, but a shock lead was taken by the visitors after just ten minutes. Johnson drove forward before slipping through to Boyes with a perfectly weighted pass and the striker made no mistake in coolly dispatching past Brandon Hall.

The hosts rallied after the shock of the early opener, but Avenue were buoyed by an in-form Steven Drench, who made crucial stops to deny Elton Ngwatala and Dan Bradley. The latter had already rifled a shot wide from close-range when he was thwarted by Drench and frustration was already showing on the faces of Harriers players.

 With half-time on the horizon, Bradley came close again with a looping header that Drench was forced to pluck out of the top corner.

The hosts were presented with an opportunity to equalise from a free-kick on the stroke of half-time when Rob Atkinson scythed down Ngwatala, but James McQuilkin drove his effort into the wall.

After the interval, Harriers emerged with the determination and attacking intent you’d expect from a side looking to overturn a deficit in a play-off game but struggled to break the visitors down. They were almost gifted an equaliser by a bizarre bounce that almost allowed a speculative long-range effort from Ngwatala to loop over Drench. Luckily, the shot struck the goalkeeper’s shoulder before flying harmlessly over the crossbar.

A frantic goal-line scramble had the hearts of the travelling supporters in their mouths, but Declan Weeks blasted over when the ball eventually broke loose.

Avenue spent a prolonged period camped in their own half but had a golden opportunity to double their lead in the 63rd minute. Boyes broke down the left before opting to shoot instead of square to an unmarked Frank Mulhern, squandering a rare chance uncharacteristically.

The direct Ngwatala was a persistent thorn in Avenue’s side and almost registered an assist when his inch-perfect cross was headed wide by Joe Ironside.

As an equaliser began to look more likely by the minute, Joel Taylor blazed over despite being in acres of space after the ball arrived at his feet at the back-post.

Holes began to appear in the hosts’ backline as bodies piled forward and Mark Bower’s side nearly capitalised when Mulhern’s low drive struck the post before Boyes’ looping header cannoned off the woodwork in the space of a minute.

Harriers were eventually punished for abandoning their defensive shape when Johnson turned in Boyes’ low-drilled cross to hand Avenue a two-goal cushion.

The second goal deflated John Eustace’s side, who desperately looked to claw one back to no avail. The visitors even came close to adding a third when Wayne Brooksby forced Hall to beat away his chipped effort in stoppage time.

Avenue will now travel to Brackley Town on Sunday, who host the odds-defying Yorkshire side for a 3pm kick-off.

Kidderminster Harriers: Hall, Vaughan, Taylor, Croasdale, Horsfall, O’Connor, Weeks (Waring 85’), McQuilkin (Sonupe 61’), Ironside, Bradley, Ngwatala.

Unused substitutes: Brown, Austin, Pearson.

Bradford Park Avenue: Drench, Ross, Atkinson, Wroe (c), Killock, Havern, Brooksby, Spencer, Boyes, Johnson, Mulhern (Vidal 84’).B

Unused substitutes: Toulson, Hall, Boshell, Smith.

 Referee: Declan Bourne