Corby Town’s season ended in heartbreak as they missed out on promotion after they were edged out in a pulsating Evo-Stik League South Division One Central play-off final.
But what did we learn?
Two attack-minded sides produced the best game of football I have covered this season.
When you consider that, between them, Bromsgrove Sporting and Corby Town scored 214 goals between them in the regular campaign, there was never any chance that this final showdown would be a snoozefest. However, I’m not sure anything could have prepared anyone for what they would witness at the Victoria Ground on Bank Holiday Monday. With everything on the line, these two teams served up an absolute classic. Once Elliot Sandy had made the breakthrough just past the half-hour, the floodgates opened with the game swinging one way and then the other. Supporters from both clubs would have gone through just about every emotion during the 120 minutes of pulsating action. It was genuinely the sort of game that neither side deserved to lose but, in the cut-throat world of play-off football, there always has to be an elated winner and a devastated loser. But for any neutrals, this was about as good as it gets.
It was devastating for Corby but they did all they could, no-one could have asked for anymore.
As the final whistle blew and the reality sunk in, there was understandable devastation for everyone connected with the Steelmen. The players sunk to their knees, shattered after their heroic effort, and there were a few tears in the eyes. And, as someone a bit more neutral, my first thought was to turn to the person next to me and say ‘I’m not sure they could have given it anymore than they did’. I stand by it. To a man, the Corby players were up for the occasion. You could be critical. They had a 30-minute period in the first half when they scored but could have added more and they will, I’m sure, be disappointed with the manner in which they conceded the goals, especially the crucial fourth in extra-time. But, in terms of effort and desire, they couldn’t have given the club or the large following much more. Once they fell 3-1 down, I feared for them. But they stormed back with incredible determination, it was a joy to watch. The day may have ended in devastation but when everyone looks back, they’ll know they gave it everything they had and that, ultimately, is all that anyone can ask for.
Two players really stood out, expect to see them in the Football League soon.
There were a number of impressive individual performances but two players with big futures in front of them really stood out. In his post-match interview, Corby boss Steve Kinniburgh was right to point out that Bromsgrove striker Jason Cowley was the big difference between the two sides. He was. The frontman scored twice and set up another. His movement and finish for the second goal was worthy of a much higher level. But the Steelmen had a standout performer of their own. Jack Newell had turned in consistent displays during his loan stint from Northampton Town but the young midfielder took it to a new level in the biggest game of the season. In a frantic game, he stayed calm. He made tackles, he passed the ball well and was the real driving force for the Steelmen both in attack and defence. Newell has signed a professional contract with the Cobblers and, if this display is anything to go by, he has a real chance of making a name for himself at Sixfields. Don’t be surprised to see Cowley and Newell playing in the Football League sooner rather than later.
If it had gone to penalties, the Steelmen and Dan George would have fancied their chances.
Dan George is a player who has gone quietly about his business this season. Steve Kinniburgh put his faith in the goalkeeper when he made him the number one during pre-season and he has let no-one down. But even George himself couldn’t have imagined how the play-offs would pan out for him. He saved a penalty in the semi-final win over Bedford Town and then, unbelievably, he made two more in this final. He stopped Richard Gregory’s spot-kick early in the second half and then he produced a quite incredible save to deny Jason Cowley from 12 yards in the second period of extra-time. If it had gone to a penalty shoot-out then, on the evidence of George's performance, the Steelmen would have fancied their chances. George, like the rest of the Corby team, would have been devastated by the final outcome but he certainly made his mark.
There were nothing but positive vibes after the game, Corby must look to go all the way next time.
I don’t envy anyone who has to give post-match interviews after such a heartbreaking defeat. But both Steve Kinniburgh and top scorer Elliot Sandy fronted up just minutes after the final whistle. And while the disappointment was clear, neither wasted too much time before looking to the future. Kinniburgh and his players have restored a feel-good factor to Steel Park and that was much-needed after some turbulent times, which at one stage included back-to-back relegations. The aim for this campaign, of course, was to gain promotion. In the end, they fell agonisingly short. But Kinniburgh will already be looking ahead. He has a good squad already in place. There will be departures as there always are. But if he can keep the nucleus together and add some quality in certain areas then there is no reason why the Steelmen shouldn’t be pushing for automatic promotion next season.