Corby Town’s season ended in heartbreak as they suffered a 4-3 defeat to Bromsgrove Sporting in a pulsating Evo-Stik League South Division One Central play-off final at a packed Victoria Ground.
Nearly 3,000 fans were on hand to witness an absolute classic, which saw seven goals, extra-time, two missed penalties and a red card.
The game swung one way and then the other but, in the end, it was Bromsgrove who prevailed and who are now promoted while the Steelmen face another season at Step 4.
Bromsgrove were out of the blocks quickly and they created the first chance when Kieren Westwood latched onto a Jason Cowley flick-on and took a shot on early but it drifted just wide of the far post.
But Corby soon got into their stride and took a firm grip on proceedings.
Jordan Francis should have done better than fire over from 14 yards after Sandy’s cross found its way to him.
The Steelmen looked a threat every time they went forward and Jordon Crawford shot straight at Jonathan Brown before Steve Diggin’s attempted lob missed the target after Crawford has sent him clear.
But the breakthrough finally came on 33 minutes.
Sandy was denied by Brown from point blank range but just 30 seconds later, the top scorer was played in and this time he produced a good, low finish into the corner.
Crawford could have made it two after he broke the offside trap but Brown made a decent save as the Corby man tried to lift the ball over him.
And, after all that dominance, the Steelmen were hit by a sucker-punch at the other end.
Cowley produced a marvellous piece of trickery down the right as he got away from Crawford, Joel Carta and Sam Warburton and his fine cross was met by the head of Richard Gregory at the far post with Dan George helpless.
That goal out of nothing lifted the hosts and they were unlucky not to be in front at the break.
A cross came in from the left and it found its way to Jake Heath who took a touch before seeing his curling shot cannon off the crossbar with George beaten.
Buoyed by that finish to the first half, Bromsgrove started the second brightly and they were presented with a golden chance to take the lead on 51 minutes.
Substitute Will Shorrock’s poor touch at the far post actually created the scenario as he nicked the ball away from Warburton who clipped the winger.
It looked a penalty but, after a slight delay, Dan George became the hero as he stopped Gregory’s spot-kick with his legs for the goalkeeper’s second penalty save in as many matches.
But the drama was only just starting as three goals in the space of five minutes changed the face of the game.
Bromsgrove took the lead for the first time as Gregory returned the favour with his strike partner as his low cross was hammered into the roof of the net by the lively Cowley.
And the Steelmen looked in real trouble when 2-1 became 3-1 just two minutes later.
This time, Shorrock’s diagonal ball found Westwood on the left side of the area. His fierce cross was too hot for George to handle and Cowley was there to pick up the pieces from close-range.
Corby needed a swift response and that was exactly what they got as the goals continued to flow.
Warburton’s pass was dummied by Carta and that allowed Sandy to feed Diggin. His first effort was parried by Brown but the frontman made no mistake from the rebound as he fired low into the net to get his team straight back into it.
Gregory sent an effort just wide for the hosts as both defences continued to look vulnerable while, at the other end, Carta saw an effort blocked and Crawford’s dangerous cross from the right had no takers.
The Steelmen kept going and only a brilliant last-ditch challenge prevented Carta from getting on the end of Francis’ wicked cross from the left while, at the other end, Cowley was inches away from getting his hat-trick when he curled a shot just wide of the mark.
But Corby, incredibly, did find the goal they needed with six minutes remaining.
Diggin had the ball at his feet at the far post and fizzed the ball across and Crawford met it with flying volley to give Brown no chance and send the visiting fans into raptures.
So, into extra-time, and with both sets of players tiring, the game opened up even more.
Sandy had a clear sight of goal when he was teed up by Diggin but Brown produced a fine stop and the home goalkeeper was at it again to deny Diggin at the near post.
But it was Bromsgrove who regained the lead in the final minute of the first period.
Corby stood off as Westwood was invited forward and he made the visitors pay with a good strike, which found the bottom corner.
But the drama just kept on coming early in the second half of extra-time.
Cowley was sent clear and was brought down by Delroy Gordon as he looked to work a shooting opportunity. Another penalty awarded and, somewhat harshly, Gordon was sent off.
But if anyone thought that was it for Corby then George had other ideas as he dived full length to his left to save his second penalty of the afternoon as Cowley was denied his hat-trick.
It gave the Steelmen that bit of hope but they were unable to threaten again as Bromsgrove saw it out to seal promotion and spark wild celebrations while the Steelmen and their fans were left devastated.
Bromsgrove: Brown; Spink, Taylor, Lincoln, Wilson; Heath (sub Shorrock, h-t), Hayward, Quaynor, Westwood (sub Peters, 105 mins); Cowley, Gregory (sub Roberts, 113 mins). Subs not used: Arnold, Dowd.
Steelmen: George; Anton, Mulligan, Gordon, Warburton; Francis (sub Fortnam-Tomlinson, 105 mins), Carta, Newell, Crawford; Sandy, Diggin. Subs not used: Robinson, Smith, Ling, McBride.
Referee: Robert Dadley.
Goals: Sandy (33 mins, 0-1), Gregory (39 mins, 1-1), Cowley (59 mins, 2-1), Cowley (61 mins, 3-1), Diggin (64 mins, 3-2), Crawford (84 mins, 3-3), Westwood (104 mins, 4-3).
Bookings: Spink, Warburton, Sandy (all fouls), Francis (dissent).
Sending-off: Gordon (denying a goalscoring opportunity).
Northants Telegraph man-of-the-match: Jack Newell - talk about an old head on young shoulders. The Northampton Town youngster has been a consistent performer since joining the Steelmen on loan and he came of age in the biggest game of the season. He got around the pitch, he made tackles, he passed the ball well. He did everything you would expect from a central midfielder. And, impressively, he never once looked like the occasion would get the better of him as he stayed calm in possession. The Cobblers have a real player on their hands.
Thanks to Jon Dunham of the Northants Telegraph for the above match report!