Play-off Final heartache as Beavers lose on penalties
The Beavers fall short after losing 4-3 on penalties to Braintree Town in the Vanarama National League South Play-off Final...
It just wasn't to be…
The Beavers came ever so close but after Diaz Wright placed his spot kick into the top corner, that sealed Braintree's promotion to the Vanarama National League, winning 4-3 on penalties, after the match finished 1-1 in normal time.
There was plenty of both excitement and nerves before kick-off as the fans streamed into the Beveree, so much so that kick-off had to be delayed by 10 minutes.
As the 3,127 spectators eventually entered the ground, the National League South Play-off Final got under way.
The Beavers got off to a perfect start in the final when Max Kretzschmar pounced at the far post after a cross from the left, slotting his strike into the bottom corner, to give the Beavers an 8th minute lead.
Braintree responded well and came back into the game with Hampton allowing the Irons to have much of the possession, whilst the Beavers focussed on hitting the visitors on the counter attack.
Just before the half hour mark, Braintree came close when striker Reece Grant’s sliding effort was well saved low down to Seny Dieng’s left, after a powerful driving run and cross from right back Jonathan Muleba.
Braintree then create a couple of chances through Marcel Barrington, firstly when his left-footed strike was well blocked inside the box by Ben Wynter and then a minute later when Barrington’s dangerous cross had to be cleared away by the head of Josh Casey.
10 minutes before the break saw a left-footed shot from Brendan Kiernan curl wide from outside the box, before Braintree captain Marc-Anthony Okoye had to clear his lines inside the six-yard area after a whipped in cross towards the danger zone from a Josh Casey set-piece.
With the Beavers set to go into half time with a 1-0 lead, the visitors equalised in the 45th minute after Daniel Thompson’s cross from the left found Reece Grant whose towering header sailed past Seny Dieng into the back of the net to give the Iron’s a timely equaliser.
There was little to shout about in the second half as neither goalkeeper was properly tested.
Braintree’s best chance of the second half fell in the 69th minute when defender Josh Hill’s drilled effort fizzed inches wide of the far post after Hampton failed to clear their lines.
A couple of audacious efforts from Jack Cook and Braintree’s Ricky Gabriel blazed high and wide over their respective crossbar’s.
Beavers goal scorer Max Kretzschmar was then forced off with a head injury ten minutes from time.
Seny Dieng got caught in a spot of bother momentarily when he lost possession outside of his box, however he did redeem himself as he collected the ball after a Braintree cross came in from the right.
After a cagey contest in the second half, the scores stayed level, so the play-off final was forced into extra time.
Extra time began frantically for both sides as the first 15 minutes seemed to have more chances created than the entire second half of normal time.
Just 4 minutes in, Grant came close to his and Braintree’s second goal of the match when his glancing header glided just wide of the far post.
Then two minutes later, a good chance fell to Shaun Jeffers inside the box, but he could only blaze his effort over the crossbar.
In the 7th minute, the Beavers came ever so close when substitute Elliott Charles’ dangerous cross towards Bradley Hudson-Odoi wasn't cleared by the Braintree defence and fell to the in-running Brendan Kiernan, but he couldn't quite get a shot away, with the keeper eventually collecting the ball.
Both sides came close, but neither could take their chances, with penalties lurking if the sides stayed level.
The second half of extra time seemed to replicate the second half of normal time, with a lack of clear-cut chances created.
And after 120 minutes of football, neither team could be separated, so the final went to a penalty shoot-out.
Shaun Jeffers was the first to step up and he comfortably slotted his finish into the back of the net, before Billy Crook blazed Braintree’s first spot kick over, giving the Beavers a 1-0 lead in the shoot-out.
Casey stepped up next, but Iron’s keeper Nathan McDonald saved his effort before Daniel Thompson score his spot kick to level things up after two penalties each.
Elliott Charles was next up for the Beavers and he just managed to sneak his penalty kick into the bottom left corner before Braintree’s Marcel Barrington scored one of his own to make it 2-2 in the shoot-out.
Brendan Kiernan then stepped up for Hampton, but his strike went over the crossbar. Braintree’s Josh Hill then sent the keeper the wrong way, giving the Irons a 3-2 lead in the shoot-out for the first time.
Hudson-Odoi scored Hampton’s third penalty out of five to make it 3-3, which meant that it was all riding on Iron's midfielder Diaz Wright who stepped up hoping to score the winning spot kick… which he did, striking the ball into the top corner to send Braintree into the National League for next season.
A penalty shoot-out defeat is always hard to take for any side, especially coming so close after such an incredible season. But this time, it just wasn't to be for the Beavers and they will once again be playing in the National League South next season.
Despite the result, the Beavers have had a magnificent season with so many positives to take from it. Losing just six league matches this campaign – the joint lowest in the division – the Beavers have shown how tough they were to beat this season.
The players have performed exceptionally as a team this campaign with a number of top performances both home and away.
The players and staff should be really proud of what has been a fantastic season for the club. They will all now have a well-deserved break over the summer before they can look forward to starting all over again next season.
The fans have been an integral part in pushing this club to new heights, so we thank you all for supporting the Beavers throughout this campaign. We’ll look forward to seeing you once again at the Beveree next season.
Remember to stay posted on the Beavers website as well as on our social media pages for the latest updates. And as always…
COME ON YOU BEAVERS!