Aaron Williams’ 36th goal of the campaign proved decisive as Brackley Town reached the Vanarama National League North play-off final for the second time.
Saints beat Bradford Park Avenue by a solitary extra-time goal from their top scorer to set up a trip to Harrogate Town in next Sunday’s final.
To go through, Saints had to do something they hadn’t done in the two previous meetings with Avenue this season - score a goal. And manager Kevin Wilkin knew they were up against an outfit strong in the defensive department and one which had already completed the double over his side.
Saints had the luxury of a free week leading up to the tie but Bradford only had four days to recover from their midweek exertions at Kidderminster Harriers. Given the hot conditions, would that take its toll on Avenue?
Both sides tested each other out in the opening exchanges with neither able to retain possession for any sustained period.
Saints had the first opportunity when Williams was just unable to get on the end of Lee Ndlovu’s low cross in the six-yard box following neat build-up play and a defence splitting pass from Jimmy Armson. Moments later Adam Walker’s deflected effort found Glenn Walker who hooked the ball into the danger area where Williams was unable to turn it in from a tight angle under pressure from keeper Steve Drench.
Saints kept knocking on the door and went close again when Armson released Adam Walker but was unable to keep his header down when the cross came back into the six-yard box.
Armson began to have more of an influence on the game as the half progressed and Avenue had to work overtime to keep their goal intact. But Avenue carved out their first opening on the break when Jamie Spencer’s shot was blocked after good hold-up play from Adam Boyes.
It was Spencer again just before the break who fired just wide from the edge of the box as Avenue finally offered a threat in the final third.
Saints twice went close just after the restart, firstly when Shane Byrne’s corner saw Alex Gudger’s far post header cleared off the line by skipper Nicky Wroe. Drench then turned Byrne’s free-kick around the post but in between Danny Lewis was called into serious action for the first time when he palmed over Frank Mulhern’s 25-yarder.
And Lewis had to be at his best to deny Wayne Brooksby, tipping his effort away when it looked bound for the top corner following good approach play from Boyes. Mulhern clearly fancied his chances from long range and a speculative dipping 35-yarder was also turned over from Lewis.
Lewis again came to Saints’ rescue when he tipped Oli Johnson’s shot on to the bar as Avenue began to pose the greater threat of the two sides in the second half.
Armson played in Ndlovu but he fired wide from an excellent position as Saints struggled to create any clear-cut chances in the second period. Armson fired just over after being set-up by Ndlovu.
Boyes missed a glorious chance to win it in stoppage-time following Wroe’s corner but he blazed high and wide from a tight angle under pressure from Lewis. So to extra-time and Wilkin threw on the experienced Andy Brown up front.
Brown headed over from Armson’s cross but Williams went even closer. Byrne’s free-kick was headed back across the six-yard box by Gudger for Williams who saw his point-blank header somehow kept out by Drench.
But Saints were not to be denied and six minutes into the second period they made the breakthrough. Brown played in substitute Ellis Myles who found Williams in the box, his first effort was blocked but he managed to toe-poke the rebound into the corner of the net.
Avenue’s late pressure almost paid off when Wroe shot through a crowded area but Lewis pulled off a brilliant reflex save and Saints had done it.