Play-off heartbreak for Saints

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Brackley Town failed to win promotion to the Conference after they were beaten 1-0 by a strong FC Halifax side in the Blue Square North final at St James’ Park.

The visitors dominated the majority of the game and scored the crucial goal 15 minutes from time when Lee Gregory smashed in from six yards.

Saints rarely threatened the Halifax goal with substitutes Steve Diggin and Marvin Robinson both going agonisingly close late on but it wasn’t to be as Halifax held on to victory, sparking scenes of mass celebration from the 1,000 travelling fans.

As expected, Saints boss Jon Brady named an unchanged side from the one that comfortably defeated Altrincham in the semi-final, meaning Eddie Odhiambo played at right-back ahead of James Clifton.

A heavy downpour before kick-off made for a slippery surface and Halifax used it to their advantage in the early stages to ping the ball about and keep some early possession.

Dan Gardener was causing the early problems as he twice breezed past Odhiambo before firing a shot inches wide of Turley’s goal.

However, a nervy-looking Brackley came through the first 15 minutes unscathed and settled into the game with both teams having a share of the possession but neither posed much of a threat.

Saints threatened through the ever-lively Tom Winters as he caused problems down the left but Halifax rarely looked in any danger of conceding.

Going forward, the visitors continually posed problems – emphasised when Liam Needham found space inside the penalty area but Tom Sharpe produced a superb block to deny a certain goal.

Halifax continued to just about shade the possession stats but Brackley were proving hard to break down as they restricted the visitors to long shots with Gardener putting a 30-yard volley narrowly wide.

The dangerous wideman instigated another period of danger for the hosts as Halifax kept Brackley camped inside their own half but the home side survived before going up the other end to have a huge penalty appeal turned down when Gary Mulligan went down under a challenge from Liam Hogan.

The half ended goalless following a cagey first 45 minutes that the visitors shaded without causing too much trouble for Billy Turley.

Saints made a bright start to the second period but Halifax quickly regained control with Gardener again the man causing problems down the left side.

A brisk counter-attack set up Sean Williams on the right but Sharpe produced another goal-saving block.

Saints gradually dropped deeper and deeper, leaving Jefferson Louis and Mulligan isolated up front as every time Brackley managed to clear the danger, Halifax came back at them with wave after wave of pressure.

The pressure built and built and eventually it was too much to take as, 15 minutes from time, Gregory scored the all important goal when he fired home from six yards out after Turley had saved well from Gardener.

Brackley had 15 minutes to find a response but they struggled to get hold of the ball as Halifax looked to kill the game off with Adriano Moke blasting over when well placed from Gregory’s flick on.

Brackley frantically came forward as the seconds ticked away and they had a glorious opportunity to take the match into extra-time when Marvin Robinson headed wide when four yards out from Winters’ corner after Steve Diggin had a shot well saved by Matty Glennon.

It wasn’t too be for Brackley, though, as the full time whistle went to send Halifax back into the Blue Square Premier while Saints will remain in the Conference North for next season after what has been a superb 2012/13 campaign, despite today’s disappointment.

Brackley: Turley (c), Odhiambo (Story 86), Austin, Sharpe, McDonald, Reid, Walkers, Solkhon, Winters, Mulligan (Robinson 78), Louis (Diggin 78).

Subs not used: Nisevic, L Walker

FC Halifax: Glennon, Toulson (Bolton 45), Macmanus, Hogan, Pearson, Lowe (c), Needham, Williams, Johnson (Moke 73), Gardener, Gregory.

Subs not used: Senior, Worthington, Seddon

Referee: Darren England

Attendance: 2,604