Stourbridge lose rearranged play-off semi-final

Stourbridge’s promotion dream is over for another year after they let a 1-0 lead slip to lose 2-1 at Alvechurch in their much-maligned Southern League Central play-off semi-final.

The match, which until yesterday had been due to be played on Monday but was originally scheduled for last Wednesday, became infamous in the days leading up to it for the pandaemonium over what date it would be played after being re-arranged six times since in little more than three days.

The game was supposed to be held at Stourbridge’s War Memorial Ground. But the Glassboys eventually gave up home advantage due to the ground not being available until Monday and switched the tie to Alvechurch to avoid a fixture pile-up, with the play-off final needing to be played ahead of the Super Final against the Northern League play-off final winners next Saturday.

Such was the upheaval of the previous week that it was a hugely welcome relief to fans, players and management alike - not to mention the Southern League - to allow the on-the-field action to do the talking again, with the importance of the match threatening to come second in significance to the sheer weight being lifted off everyone's shoulders that the game went ahead at all.

Stourbridge had several chances to open the scoring, with Greg Mills firing over the bar, before Alvechurch rattled the woodwork with Mitch Botfield's header.

Alvechurch's Tom Tonks, playing against his former club, also caused problems with his trademark long throw-ins, but it was the Glassboys who went ahead in first-half stoppage time.

Gary Hackett’s men had gone on the attack – with Paul McCone's header saved by Alvechurch goalkeeper Dan Crane, before the ball rebounded off McCone and hit defender Zack Foster's hand, causing the referee to point to the spot.

Mills calmly converted his spot-kick to put the visitors in command.

But, as if summing up Stourbridge’s season in one match, the game fell apart for the Glassboys in the second half.

Alvechurch equalised around ten minutes after half-time, when substitute Andre Landell found space between McCone and Glassboys keeper James Wren to head the ball in.

Stourbridge had a good chance to go back in front moments later when Mills forced Crane into an excellent low diving save.

They were made to rue the missed opportunity as, within minutes, Stourbridge fell behind when James Roberts got on the end of a good Alvechurch build-up to slot past Wren.

Landell thought he'd extended Alvechurch's lead when he headed in Tom Turton's free-kick, but it was disallowed for offside.

Luke Benbow then missed Stourbridge's best chance of an equaliser, his long-range effort forcing another accomplished stop from Crane as Alvechurch survived to book their place in Monday's final.

They'll travel to Kings Lynn, who also came from 1-0 down at half-time, winning 3-1 against Stratford, whose offence of fielding an ineligible player during the second half of the season lit the initial spark which led to the fireworks of postponements and re-arrangements of the past few days.

The winner of Monday's final will play Warrington, who beat South Shields 2-1 in the Northern League play-off final this afternoon.

After a breathless week off the pitch moreso than on it, attention for Stourbridge will now turn to looking into what went wrong for them this season after a lightning start.

Around Christmas, they were top of the table and, at one stage they and eventual champions Kettering found themselves ten points clear of the chasing pack, with Stourbridge fourteen points clear of Kings Lynn.

But their form fell away in the New Year, with Kettering eventually ending the season 16 points clear of the Glassboys, who were caught and passed by Kings Lynn, who finished second, with Stourbridge coming third.

It's the second time in three years that the Glassboys have made the play-offs, but the second time they've fallen short.

Some fans have openly questioned the club's appetite or desire to continue progressing up the leagues - though chairman Andy Pountney emphatically rejected this in an interview with Adam Parkes on Black Country Radio's Friday Sportsview programme yesterday, insisting that nobody craves promotion more than him.


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