Dan Quigley saw red as AFC Rushden & Diamonds’ promotion hopes went up in smoke as Witton Albion claimed a 1-0 victory at Wincham Park.
Diamonds trailed to Rob Hopley’s second-half goal and then Quigley was sent-off for a lunge on Steve Tames and Diamonds struggled to respond as the Evo-Stik Northern Premier League Division One South runners-up moved into Saturday’s play-off final.
Unsurprisingly, Peaks kept faith with the same starting line-up following the 5-1 victory over Carlton Town, which secured Diamonds’ play-off place on the final day of the season as Tom Lorraine, who hit a hat-trick in that game, kept his place alongside top scorer Nabil Shariff.
The early stages were cagey with neither team really able to keep hold of the ball on a slippery surface.
But it was Witton who finished the half the stronger and, had it not been for the brilliance of Matt Finlay, they would have been in front.
The Diamonds goalkeeper helped a volley from Anthony Brown over the bar following a corner but then produced a magnificent low save to his left to claw out Tom Owens’ header.
But if that was good, Finlay took it to another level two minutes later when he threw himself to his right to tip Brad Bauress’ strike onto the crossbar.
Diamonds started the second half well enough but the game turned in the space of a minute.
The visitors went close when Sam Brown’s long throw was flicked on by Lorraine and hit Anthony Brown, who knew nothing about it, but it drifted wide.
The corner was cleared and, in Witton’s next attack, Anthony Gardner clipped the ball forward, Hopley got in behind the Diamonds defence and calmly lifted the ball over Finlay and into the net.
Lorraine forced Danny Roberts into a decent save with a firm strike from 18 yards but Diamonds’ task was made all the more harder just past the hour.
And there could be few arguments as Quigley went over the top of the ball when stretching to tackle Steve Tames. The studs were showing and referee Lewis Smith wasted little time in brandishing the red card.
Peaks threw the dice putting Jack Bowen on in place of Shawn Richards and Diamonds reacted well to going down to 10 men.
Lorraine might have done better than glance a header wide from Sam Brown’s cross from the left.
But, in general, Witton saw things out with few issues and the closest Diamonds came again was deep into stoppage-time when Brown sent a fierce strike over from 20 yards.
On this night, it simply wasn’t to be...
Witton: Roberts; Gardner, A Brown, Lycett, Devine; Haywood, Tames, Bauress, Owens; Hopley, Jones. Subs not used: Omotola, McKenna, Noon, Wilson, Ritchie.
Diamonds: Finlay; Westwood, Harris, Dolman, S Brown; Richards (sub Bowen, 68 mins), Farrell, Quigley, Brown-Hill (sub Oulton, h-t); Lorraine (sub Orosz, 89 mins), Shariff. Subs not used: McNulty, Heath.
Referee: Lewis Smith.
Goals: Hopley (54 mins, 1-0),
Bookings: A Brown, Brown-Hill, Westwood (all fouls).
Sending-off: Quigley (reckless challenge).