Evo-Stik League Southern – Central Division: Play-off Final: Rugby Town 1 Biggleswade Town 3
Town’s big afternoon ended in disappointment, as Biggleswade secured a place in the Southern League Premier Division from the Butlin Road promotion decider.
Having seen their bid for automatic promotion run out of steam in the closing stages of the main season, Rugby suffered the same fate on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday in front of a crowd of 1,126 – the biggest for a Valley game there in nineteen years.
Rugby had taken the lead just ahead of the hour mark through David Kolodynski, but the visitors were soon back on terms thanks a dubiously awarded penalty – before Paul Barnes grabbed two late goals to ensure the Waders – who had finished eleven points and two places behind the hosts in the final league table – joined champions Burnham in step three of the non-league football pyramid.
It was indeed a cruel blow for Dave Stringer’s young side, who had established a number of club records over the season and impressed with their spirit and level of performance.
Stringer made one change from the side that had edged to victory against Beaconsfield in the play-off semi six days earlier, with Fazel Koriya restored to the starting line-up in place of Richard Blythe – leaving Andrew Spencer to assume a central midfield role.
As with the Beaconsfield semi-final, it was a predictably tight, tense affair from the off, although Valley did arguably shade the opening exchanges, and Koriya almost made the visitors pay when he got in behind their defence in the fourth minute.
The best chance of the first half saw Lewis McBride rattle the crossbar with a perfectly executed volley from the edge of the penalty area, although Biggleswade countered with Dave Bevan doing well to push away a stinging effort from Craig Daniel.
Generally Valley were trying to play the better football without finding that cutting edge against a side who were more direct in their approach, with the over-fussy referee Anthony Serrano not helping to create a particularly entertaining spectacle either.
The deadlock was broken on 58 minutes when Spencer’s pass forward saw Kolodynski and Seb-Lake Gaskin exchange a neat one-two, allowing Kolodynski to run through and expertly lift the ball over the head of keeper Michael McEntegart to the delight of the big crowd behind the goal.
The visitors responded well though and were nearly level immediately, when McBride cleared Daniel’s shot off the line.
The game’s turning point came not long after, when Mason Rowley made an harmless looking – albeit unnecessary – challenge on Barnes, which saw the striker go to ground far too easily.
Initially it appeared that Serrano – who was well-up with play – was going to ignore the hopeful appeals for a penalty, but then on his assistant’s insistence he awarded a spot-kick, which Lee Allinson duly dispatched past Bevan.
This sequence of events appeared to knock the stuffing out of Valley, and Barnes had two good chances to give his side the advantage.
For Rugby, Kolodynski headed one straight at McEntegart and Sam Youngs shot well wide, before Barnes grabbed his side’s second when he was given too much space in the box before volleying home a Daniel cross.
With the home side stretched looking for a late equaliser, Barnes then put the game beyond doubt with a couple of minutes of normal time remaining, when he slid in to finish off Andrew Iwediuno’s far post delivery, after the full-back had broke from deep.
l Rugby line-up & ratings: Bevan 7, Austin 6, Myles 7, Rowley 5, Gudger 6, Youngs 5, McBride 7, Spencer 5 (Blythe 6), Kolodynski 6, Lake-Gaskin 6 (Williams 5), Koriya 6. Subs not used: Palmer, Booth, Maisiri. Booked: Kolodynski
Goal: Kolodynski 58
l Biggleswade line-up: McEntegart, York, Iwediuno, Kilroy, Gentle, Allinson, Daniel, Knight, Barnes, Mason (Reynolds), Woolf (Donnelly). Subs not used: Gatti, O’Brien, Taylor.
Goals: Allinson 64 (pen), Barnes 86 & 88
l Attendance: 1126
l Rugby Star Man: Lewis McBride