AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ hopes of picking up some silverware this season were ended as Brackley Town held their nerve to claim the NFA Hillier Senior Cup after a penalty shoot-out at Northampton Town’s PTS Academy Stadium.
The county showpiece had ended goalless with Diamonds producing a resolute display to frustrate their higher-ranked opponents.
But, with the game going straight to penalties, it was Brackley goalkeeper Danny Lewis who was the hero as he made two saves in the shoot-out to ensure the Vanarama National League North side triumphed 4-2 on spot-kicks.
From the off, it had more of a friendly feel to it rather than a final and, had it not been for the chill in the air and the persistent rain, you could have been forgiven for thinking it was pre-season.
There was a bizarre moment early on when former Diamond Luke Fairlamb was played in for a clear run on goal but he gave up the ghost, presumably believing he was offside when he wasn’t.
There were few chances in a quiet first half with Liam Dolman producing an excellent block after Ellis Myles unleashed a shot after finding space in the area.
But it was Dolman who came closest to breaking the deadlock.
Nathan Hicks sent a free-kick into the area, Alex Collard headed it on and it fell to the Diamonds skipper who saw his shot deflected onto the post by Oran Jackson who was well placed on the line.
Brackley started the second half the better and Shaun Jeffers shot over from a good position after the ball broke to him on the edge of the box while Ben Heath was forced into his first real save when he diverted an Omari Sterling-James shot round the post with his feet.
And Sterling-James went even closer soon after when he drove his effort just wide after a corner had only been half-cleared.
Both managers made changes as penalties beckoned and while Daniel Nti saw a shot deflected narrowly off target for Brackley, it was actually Diamonds who created the best opportunity to win it towards the end.
Substitute Declan Rogers broke clear on the right and rolled the ball into the path of Tom Lorraine. The striker missed his kick from a good position and another substitute Joe Curtis eventually saw his final effort blocked.
The first crucial moment in the shoot-out saw Lewis keep out Curtis’ spot-kick and, after Brackley had scored their first four, Rogers stepped up needing to score but Lewis guessed right and pushed it away to seal the deal.
It was harsh on Diamonds after such a disciplined display but they, like Brackley, have bigger fish to fry.
They must now focus on getting on a winning run if they are to stand any chance of squeezing into the Evo-Stik League South Premier Division Central play-offs and it will have to start at St Ives Town on Saturday.
Diamonds: Heath; Reynolds, Collard, Dolman, Ashton, Brown; Farrell (sub Rogers, 80 mins), Diamond (sub Curtis, 87 mins), Hicks; Lorraine, Bowen (sub J Dean, 87 mins). Subs not used: Westbrook, North.
Brackley: Lewis; G Dean, Jackson, Walker, Myles (sub Byrne, 79 mins), Prosser, Murombedzi, Fairlamb; Sterling-James (sub Armson, 79 mins), Nti, Jeffers (sub Lowe, 79 mins). Sub not used: Hall.
Referee: Wayne Chalmers.
Penalties: Prosser (scored 0-1), Hicks (scored 1-1), Murombedzi (scored 1-2), Curtis (missed 1-2), Fairlamb (scored 1-3), Lorraine (scored 2-3), Armson (scored 2-4), Rogers (missed 2-4).
Booking: Ashton (foul).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Alex Collard - There were plenty of contenders, especially across the backline with captain Liam Dolman in typically solid form while Nathan Hicks covered an exceptional amount of ground in the midfield. But Collard impressed once again. He has been one of the finds of the season for Diamonds. You could count his mistakes on one hand since he joined the club towards the end of last year. His positional play was excellent, he won his headers and got blocks in when he needed to. It was another fine display by a centre-half who will surely go on to play at a higher level in the future.