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FC United crash out of Evo-Stik Premier Division play-offs

FC United have been beaten in the Evo-Stik Premier Division play-offs for the fourth consecutive season after a dramatic 2-1 defeat after extra-time in a nervy encounter against Ashton United on Tuesday night at Gigg Lane.

The Reds took the lead just after the hour mark courtesy of a Jerome Wright penalty but The Robins broke FC United hearts with stoppage time goals in normal time and extra-time to book their place in the final against Fylde on Saturday. Congratulations to Ashton and good luck in the final.

Despite the best efforts of the fans, players and staff United never really got into the free-flowing football that had been key to the run which seen us go within a point of winning the league title and the visitors dragged the Reds into a dogged cup tie.

Attacking the Manchester Road End in the first half, it was United that were on the front foot for the majority of the match, but a solid defensive performance was always part of the Ashton game plan and one which they executed to great effect.

With the prize on offer for victory it was somewhat understandable that both teams looked a little nervous and as such the game itself, as is often the case with big matches, wasn’t too much of a footballing spectacle.

A very tight first half saw few chances with Matthew Wolfenden forcing a good reaction save from the visiting goalkeeper and Dave Birch having a shot deflected over the bar being the only real chances of note.

The second half continued in much the same pattern with United having large amounts of possession, but coming up against the ‘team bus’ defending of The Robins was proving too much to break.

On the hour mark United got a break when a clumsy challenge in the Ashton area resulted in a penalty for the Reds. Up stepped Jerome Wright who fired home to give United the advantage.

After the goal, the visitors came out of their shell and looked dangerous on the attack with Dale Johnson and substitute Martin Pilkington looking to most dangerous threats to the United defence.

Both teams had their chances in the last half hour with a ball fired across the box from the right being directed towards goal by substitute Astley Mulholland rattling the crossbar being the closest United would come to adding a second goal.

With five minutes of stoppage time added it seemed all United had to do was hang on, but in that added time Johnson took down a through ball at the edge of the United box before slotting the ball through Carnell’s legs and getting a priceless equaliser forcing the game into an extra 30 minutes.

As you would expect from the United faithful, heads on the terraces didn’t drop and the noise levels in extra time were even higher as United pushed once more for the lead.

Despite good possession and looking for a way through, United found the well organised defensive unit of Ashton too much to break, the best opportunity coming when Mulholland’s quick feet got him free on the right before seeing his hard, low cross stuffed out at the near post.

With 120 minutes on the clock, it looked as though the game was heading for a penalty shootout. But Ashton won a corner and the tale had yet another cruel and punishing twist. The ball came across to the far post and was fired home by Jack Higgins, crushing our promotion hopes for another year.

The heartache of missing out in the play-offs for the fourth year in a row was clear, but didn’t stop a show of solidarity from everybody at the club knowing that we’ll be at our own home next season at Broadhurst Park and no matter what league we are in we know just how good that is going to feel.

The positives are there for next season; we racked up our highest ever points tally at this level whilst playing some of our best football and we’re going home. The red flag will still be flying high next season and one thing we know is that we will all be there again.

Man of the match: Liam Brownhill – Hard to pick out a single player when everybody put everything into the game. But the set piece deliveries and balls from either flank from one of the outstanding performers of the season looked to be the best opportunities for FC United.

Report by Craig Phillips

First Posted ~ 23:22 Tue 29 Apr 2014
News ID ~ 5515
Last Updated ~ 02:52 Tue 16 Feb 2021