"An immense night despite my pessimistic expectations!" Christian James reflects on Boston United's play-off victory at Aggborough
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Not helped by having seen promotion ambitions ended last time I was at Aggborough - my mindset ahead of kick off was one of hope more than expectation.
That visit came eight years ago, on the final day of the season, as Harriers’ tenants at the time, Worcester City handed Dennis Greene’s men a 3-0 defeat, leaving them sixth on 72 points - not good enough when the play-offs were four-team affairs.
Boston’s tally this time around was nine lower, but with the National League having introduced the new structure in 2018 (a brilliant innovation which rewards league position while giving more sides something to play for) United had a ticket in the play-off lottery this time around.
Unlike the build up to the Farsley game, the nerves weren’t there for me.
There was a freedom in low expectations, and a knowledge that I ought to try and enjoy the occasion, United having done well in the end to reach it.
Yet as the first half progressed, with Danny Elliott and Jake Wright jnr missing the best two chances of the opening half hour before Femi Seriki came close after a Barnes-vs-Brazil-esque run through the Kiddy lines, suddenly there was a game to win.
Then the goal came. Keenan Ferguson seemed to have held the ball for a little too long, but he produced a left footed cross for Elliott who forced home his 29th of the season.
A deserved lead on the quality of chances to then, but suddenly the Pilgrims had something to lose.
Kidderminster ought to have been accustomed to the big occasion after their cup heroics but none of those games had the Harriers as favourites- the expectation was all on the hosts this time around and their Massive™ crowd demanded a response.
The Aggborough North End had steadily built the noise pre-match but after the 10 minutes the loudest shouts came when Scott Duxbury clattered into Luke Simpson, and the customary 'you s*** b***** ahhhh' with every Marcus Dewhurst kick after the interval.
The chants were generic, almost like those on the FIFA games series (plus swearing).
A fine following numbers wise, but Boston were unfazed.
I feel harsh criticising the Harriers’ following, particularly the younger contingent in that end, as such interest has to be good the club and the Non-League game, but the fireworks, the disappearing at the end before applauding a team which, by all accounts, had given the Aggborough faithful plenty to enjoy, were surprising down points on a fine attendance.
The East Stand supporters left quickly in even greater numbers, but the Main Stand largely remained to show their appreciation.
Back to the action, and Duxbury’s injury left United with Ferguson in an unfamiliar left sided role.
You felt the Pilgrims were unlikely to keep tight through to the end - Ashley Hemmings the obvious threat to Boston’s weakened left side.
And so it proved: a goal in three games against Boston for him this season, this time around a fine finish that gave Marcus Dewhurst little chance.
That piece of brilliance could have sparked a quick turnaround, but the chances didn’t come.
Boston, against my pessimistic expectations, weathered the storm and a first real foray forwarded afforded one former Pilgrim the change to undo the work of the other end.
Tenacious work from Wright Jr saw him recover to float in a cross/shot, and with no blue shirts close by Alex Penny got in an awful tangle with keeper Simpson.
We’ll take them as they come…
Hemmings had his chance in added time, unable to nod home at the back post, at that was that.
A classic away performance, sturdy in defence, midfield dominance asserted and created the better chances at the other end.
Dewhurst produced when called up, the save to his right early in the second half stands out, while his back five- credit due to Keenan Ferguson for slotting in on his unfamiliar side- were excellent.
As Harriers looked to find the channels Scott Garner and Jake Wright Sr had plenty of mopping up to do, while Luke Shiels’ aerial dominance frustrated Amari Morgan-Smith as the game progressed.
Seriki’s surging runs continue to excite – having missed his debut at York City it was good to see what I imagine was a similar showing from him in the first half – while Shane Byrne and Paul Green recovered numerous loose balls and held things together.
With Brad Abbott alongside the trio controlled the middle of the pristine Aggborough pitch throughout.
And what more could you ask of a front duo than a goal from one an assist by the other?
Elliott is honing in on 30 for the season after registering a poachers’ finish in the first half, shushing the home support in celebration, while Wright Jr’s tireless work created the moment of chaos that brought the winner.
Whether he is able to recharge the batteries in a little under three days remains to be seen- Ntumba Massanka held things up well as United looked to close the game out and he might be in line for a start come Sunday afternoon.
A word finally for Scott Duxbury who ended up following the game on the way to, and then in hospital, where he received a number of stitches to his upper lip.
Whether the injury he inflicated/contributed to for Simpson impacted him later in the game, I am unsure, but in a season where every competitive fixture sees the football gods demand an United injury it is the left back this time.
Given the absences of Leesley and Nicholson you hope he is able to start at Mill Farm.
Credit to those who travelled – the support was immense – and, for once, that was rewarded with a victory on the big occasion.
On to Fylde – with a 1000-strong allocation to fill.
Follow Christian James on Twitter at @BostonUtdStats
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