Shaw Lane Aquaforce 1 Coalville Town 3
Coalville Town will be enjoying life in the Evo-Stik Northern Premier next season, after they came from a goal behind to see off Shaw Lane Aquaforce by three goals to one. Shaw Lane went into half-time with a 1-0 advantage thanks to a header from Lee Bennett, but goals from Nathan Watson, Callum Woodward & Luke Smithson ensured the visitors would be the ones plying their trade at Step 3 of the Non-League pyramid next season.
The final pitted the best two performing sides behind champions, Stafford Rangers, up against each other with second placed team, Shaw Lane, designated a home tie due to the league position. Pre-match, the pitch was glistening in the sunshine, but the ever-changing weather meant that the clash began amidst a brief hail storm to bring add some spice to the proceedings with promotion on the line.
The sunshine soon reappeared although the first half failed to replicate the weather, as both teams played out a fairly dull affair with plenty of scrappy football on display. Shaw Lane did manage to produce more in the way of half chances early on, with the contest simmering it’s way into action. Lee Bennett headed well wide of the far post just shy of the fifteen minute mark which marked the game’s first opportunity. The only other real chance of note came before the half hour, with Gavin Allott stabbing the ball wide after he had earlier set up the move just inside the Coalville half.
Coalville Town made it into the final third on a few occasions with no end product, and they eventually paid for this in the 33rd minute when Shaw Lane scored the opening goal of the contest. A fine ball down the line from right-back, Gary Stohrer, allowed the tireless Jonathan Wafula to sprint past his marker towards the byline to provide an excellent ball into the box. The cross found it’s way to Lee Bennett, who powered a header home from six yards out after he found himself unmarked in the danger zone. 1-0 was the way it stayed going into the break as there was little to speak of from either side for the rest of the period. Other than two efforts wide from James Walshaw and Allott for Shaw Lane, and Nathan Watson blazing over for Coalville, the half petered out more than anything else.
Coalville felt the need to turn to their substitutes bench at half-time with Brad Munn coming on for Jared Holmes. It turned out to be a truly inspired substitution with Munn being at the heart of everything dangerous from Coalville’s perspective in the second period. It did beg the question however of why he was not one of the first names on the teamsheet, such was the significance of his impact.
The visitors looked far more comfortable in the early stages of the second half, and they almost produced a spectacular leveller in the 54th minute, as Watson rifled an effort from the edge of the box narrowly over the crossbar. Shaw Lane still had enough about them to trouble Coalville however, and they in fact came very close to doubling their lead in the 64th minute. A driven corner from captain, Matt Thornhill, was expertly turned towards goal by Bennett, but he could only put his head in his hands instead of wheeling away, as he saw his effort cleared off the line.
The influence of Munn was emphasised with 68 minutes on the clock, as he played a vital role in the build-up to the equaliser for Coalville. He combined excellently with Watson for a one-two just inside the Shaw Lane half, which allowed Watson to run into space towards the area. With no tackle in sight, Watson utilised this opportunity to shoot low into the corner past the outstretched arm of Shaw Lane goalkeeper, Tom Morgan. With that leveller on the board, Coalville were now in the ascendency and had promotion firmly within in their sights.
Shaw Lane found themselves mostly on the back foot for the remainder of the encounter with Coalville looking to put the nail in the coffin for the hosts. Munn was someone they could not keep tabs on, as he forced Morgan into a near post parried save, with the Shaw Lane keeper fortunate that there was no Coalville player available on the rebound to tap home. Watson was also enjoying himself in attack a lot more in the second half, alerting Morgan again with a powerful low strike at his near post that the goalkeeper could only turn behind.
Morgan was turning out to be his side’s hero at this stage, as he was again called into action to smother a shot with his chest from Alex Troke, with the ball going behind for a corner. The pressure eventually got the better of the Shaw Lane backline, as the visitors found the net for a second time from the aforementioned corner. Dean Freeman latched onto the delivery into the box to produce a headed flick-on across goal into the path of Woodward, who in turn nodded home from a couple of yards out. The goal came at a crucial point with there being only ten minutes left for Shaw Lane to claw themselves back into contention.
Shaw Lane were now becoming increasingly susceptible to the counter attack as they pushed for a leveller, and it was almost their downfall not long after they had fallen behind. The breakaway culminated in Munn going up against Morgan in a one-on-one opportunity, but thankfully for Shaw Lane their blushes were spared by a fine save from their goalkeeper. There was only so much Morgan could do for his side though, as they crumbled once again to a counter to gift Coalville a third with a minute left of normal time. It was of no surprise that the breakaway involved Watson and Munn, with the latter laying the ball off to fellow substitute, Luke Smithson, who slotted the ball into the far corner after he advanced down the right to join the attack.
Shaw Lane looked shellshocked and they only had enough time to produce one effort on target in injury time, even though it was too little, too late. Allott forced Coalville goalkeeper, Sean Bowles, into a save with an effort that was produced more in vain than expectaction.
The final whistle blew shortly afterwards which sparked wild celebrations amongst the Coalville Town players and their supporters. They will now test themselves in the Northern Premier Division after finally breaking their play-off duck. It is the third time in four seasons that Coalville Town have been in the play-offs, albeit with no success until now. As well as a play-off loss, it was a poignant day for Shaw Lane Aquaforce, as it was the last match they can use the ‘Aquaforce’ in their name due to FA guidelines. Whatever they decide the call themselves next term, they will surely be in the hunt for promotion once again on the back of a fine campaign. Congratulations to Coalville Town, who were deserved winners in the end.
Shaw Lane Aquaforce: Morgan, Stohrer (Dempsey 81), O’Brien, Istead (Priestley 81), Radford, Meynell, Wafula, Thornhill, Walshaw, Allott, Bennett (Potts 72)
Coalville Town: Bowles, Raven (Smithson 65), Tune, Jenno, Freeman, Walshe, Woodward, Dean, Troke (Hooton 86), Watson, Holmes (Munn 46)
Report by James Hunt