VERDICT: Super Steelmen storm into the play-off final
Corby Town set up a play-off showdown at Bromsgrove Sporting with a thrilling 5-3 victory over Bedford Town at Steel Park.
It ended up being an Evo-Stik League South Division One Central play-off final that literally had everything but, ultimately, the Steelmen prevailed to edge closer to promotion.
For the most part, Steve Kinniburgh’s team were excellent and, at times, sensational.
And while there were numerous impressive individual displays, Jordon Crawford produced an outstanding performance for the big occasion.
The hometown boy scored one and was involved in the other four as Corby stormed into a 4-0 lead before Bedford, with literally nothing to lose, took the shackles off and ensured it wasn’t all completely plain sailing.
In the end though, the final outcome was right. Corby were well worth their victory and their place in the final on Bank Holiday Monday’s when they will do battle with Bromsgrove for the fourth and last time this season.
Bedford started brightly and it took a fine save from Dan George to deny former Corby loanee Leon Lobjoit after he wriggled clear in the area.
But the Steelmen didn’t really look back after they opened the scoring on 17 minutes.
The ball fell kindly for Crawford in the area and his well-struck shot was parried by Ashlee Jones but Steve Diggin reacted the quickest and hammered the rebound into the roof of the net.
And that advantage was doubled just six minutes later. Sam Warburton sent a free-kick from just inside the Bedford half into the area. Delroy Gordon got up well to head it down and Crawford was there to guide the ball into the far corner to put Corby firmly in control
The Eagles responded with Jack Vasey seeing his header from a right-wing cross coming back off the bar.
But the Steelmen’s passage into the final was all-but confirmed six minutes before the break.
Crawford was involved again as he found Jordan Francis at the far post. His low strike back across goal saw Diggin stretching to get the final touch. It came back off the post and this time Elliot Sandy was there to pick up the pieces for his 32nd goal in all competitions this season.
And it was so nearly four before half-time when a free-kick from the right was met by the head of skipper Gary Mulligan but he was out of luck as it came back off the crossbar.
If that first half was fast and furious, it was to be eclipsed after the break.
The game looked to be well and truly over when Crawford was fouled in the area by the on-rushing Jones and, after both players had received treatment, Sandy stepped up to send Jones the wrong way for his second and Corby’s fourth of the night.
Bedford responded by throwing men forward and, after Vasey had headed over, they did pull one back when Callum Donnelly sent a looping header beyond George and into the far corner from a Lucas Kirkpatrick cross.
And there may have been a few nerves in the air when Jamie Anton was penalised for a push in the area as Bedford were given the chance to further reduce the arrears.
However, Steelmen stopper George produced an excellent save to keep out Dan Walker’s spot-kick.
Bedford’s hopes of a sensational comeback were hit again when Brett Longden was shown a straight red card for a crude, late challenge on Crawford.
But still the Eagles pushed forward and substitute James Hall converted a right-wing cross from close-range to make it 4-2.
Back came Corby and Crawford was at it again as any doubt about the final outcome was removed. Sandy played him in down the left and his inch-perfect cross was finished off by free-scoring midfielder Joel Carta with a well-placed header.
There was still time for Joe Steele to bundle home Bedford’s third following a free-kick but there were no further problems after that as Corby were able to celebrate a job well done.
The Steelmen have moved one step closer to achieving their target for the season.
And if they produce another attacking display like this on Monday then it could well be a case of mission accomplished...
Steelmen: George; Anton, Mulligan, Gordon, Warburton; Newell, Carta; Francis (sub Bettles, 82 mins), Sandy, Crawford (sub Fortnum-Tomlinson, 87 mins); Diggin (sub Ling, 71 mins). Subs not used: Robinson, Smith.
Bedford: Jones; Longden, Watkins-Clark, Steele; Kirkpatrick (sub Hall, 63 mins), Nelson-Addy, Donnelly, Ford; Vasey (sub Benson, 56 mins), Lobjoit, Walker. Subs not used: Peters, Abbey, Furlong.
Referee: Richie Watkins.
Goals: Diggin (17 mins, 1-0), Crawford (23 mins, 2-0), Sandy (39 mins, 3-0), Sandy pen (53 mins, 4-0), Donnelly (61 mins, 4-1), Hall (79 mins, 4-2), Carta (81 mins, 5-2), Steele (88 mins, 5-3).
Bookings: Diggin, Sandy, Carta, Lobjoit (all fouls), Francis,Donnelly (both unsporting behaviour).
Sending-off: Longden (serious foul play).
The Raj (www.therajrestaurant.net) man-of-the-match: Jordon Crawford - the facts speak for themselves. The hometown boy scored one of the goals and was involved in the other four. When you play big games, you need your top players to perform and Crawford certainly produced the goods when his team needed it the most. When he’s in this sort of mood, there aren’t many defences at this level that can live with him. Let’s hope he is in the mood again on Monday.