Kettering Town’s promotion hopes went up in smoke as they fell to a 3-1 defeat at Slough Town in the Evo-Stik South League Premier play-off semi-final at Arbour Park.
And, in the end, there could be few complaints as individual errors proved costly for the Poppies who were sorely below-par on the big night.
They were well in the game when Aaron O’Connor brought them level in the first half but Slough were the better side after the break and deservedly booked their place in the final at King’s Lynn Town on Bank Holiday Monday.
The Poppies were without injured talisman Brett Solkhon and his influence and fighting spirit was missed.
Slough had the better of the early exchanges without really troubling the visiting defence but the hosts were gifted the opening goal on 13 minutes.
Orrin Pendley’s attempted header back to goalkeeper Paul White was always short and Perry Coles nipped in to knock the ball into the unguarded net.
The Poppies really struggled to find their way into the game but they thought they had levelled just before the half-hour when Lindon Meikle’s driving run ended with his cross being knocked in by Mathew Stevens, only for an offside flag to stop the celebrations in their tracks.
But that was the catalyst for Kettering to force their way back into things and they did draw level nine minutes before the break.
The Slough players did stop and wait for a flag this time and they probably had good cause with Stevens and O’Connor looking like they were in offside positions.
But the flag didn’t come and O’Connor had all the time in the world to pick his spot for goal number 40 of the season.
The Poppies could have been in front before the break as well. O’Connor was denied by a good save from Jack Turner as he attempted to lift the ball over him after jinking his way into the area.
And Stevens probably should have done better when he got away in the right channel but blazed over with Turner to beat.
Like the first half, Slough started the second period well and they were rewarded seven minutes after the restart.
A neat piece of place left James Dobson in front of goal and Michael Richens went in with a somewhat desperate challenge. He may have got a bit of the ball but referee Joel Mannix pointed to the spot and Dobson picked himself up to send White the wrong way from 12 yards.
But the Poppies came back into things and, almost immediately, Stevens forced Turner into a smart save.
They went even closer when Rene Howe rose to head towards goal, only for a Slough defender to do his job and hack it off the line.
And, just a few seconds later, it looked like game over.
This time, an uncharacteristic error from goalkeeper White as he had seemingly gathered the ball only to spill it. Chris Flood seized on it and White hauled the striker down. No question about that one, a penalty all day long.
And Dobson stepped up again and this time found the top corner for what looked like being the proverbial dagger through the heart of the Poppies players and their large following.
Indeed, that third goal sucked the life out of the Kettering players and they were unable to seriously threaten the home goal again until another header was cleared off the line in stoppage-time.
In truth, the Poppies got what they deserved on this particular night.
They made some dreadful mistakes and were punished for them. And they never really hit the heights needed for an occasion such as this.
They still have the NFA Hillier Senior Cup final to come next week but that would be only scant consolation.
Another season has passed and the Poppies are staying at Step Three. We’ll have to see what that means for the overall picture as the summer develops.
Slough: Turner; Fraser, Day, Nisbet, Wells; Dobson, Togwell, Davies, Harris (sub Lench, 90 mins); Flood, Coles (sub Williams, 79 mins). Subs not used: Smart, Hollis, Dunn.
Poppies: White; Thomas (sub Stohrer, 90 mins), Pendley, Mulligan, Toseland; Meikle, Richens, Hoenes; O’Connor (sub Milnes, 67 mins), Howe, Stevens (sub Carvalho, 79 mins). Subs not used: Bateman, Marshall.
Goals: Coles (13 mins, 1-0), O’Connor (36 mins, 1-1), Dobson pen (52 mins, 2-1), Dobson pen (70 mins, 3-1).
Bookings: Richens, White (both fouls).