Felipe Barcelos grabbed the late winner as Banbury United booked their place in the Evo-Stik Southern League Division One South & West play-off final.
The Puritans beat Winchester City 1-0 in Tuesday’s semi-final at Spencer Stadium and thoroughly deserved their win, despite the margin of victory. They will now meet Taunton Town in Monday’s final after they came from behind to beat Swuindon Supermarine 2-1.
United found themselves attacking the Town End in the first half and were quickly out of the blocks. Brendan Norris punched away a dangerous cross from Mark Bell before Barcelos cut into the box but took one touch too many and the chance was gone.
After the initial flurry in their own box, City began to get into the game and enjoyed good spells of possession. But United still looked the more likely to break the deadlock and it took a last-gasp clearance from Leigh Mills to hack away a dangerous cross from Callum White.
Ricky Johnson set Barcelos away but his snap-shot was high and wide. Barcelos had another chance moments later after being neatly set-up by Zac McEachran but the Brazilian striker miscued and was off target with his effort.
United began to turn the screw as the half progressed, looking for the breakthrough. Bell went on a mazy run before finding McEachran but he could only fire into the side-netting after cutting inside Jake Newton.
Another tricky run from Bell saw him go between two defenders but his goalbound shot was deflected over by Newton. From the ensuing corner Andy Gunn saw his effort deflected over the bar.
McEachran saw his low drive saved by Norris after it came through a crowded box as City made it difficult for United to find a way through. City made it to halftime without creating a chance but, more importantly for their own play-off hopes, without conceding a goal.
But United should have broken the deadlock shortly after restart. White’s deep cross found Johnson and his header was parried by Norris but Barcelos somehow managed to put the ball back into the keeper’s hands from a barely a yard out.
Despite the missed opportunity, United picked up from where they left off in the opening period and soon got on top again. The best move of the match involving Johnson, McEachran and Bell ended with the overlapping White seeing his drive saved by Norris.
Johnson began and almost finished a good move down the left, finding Barcelos but United’s top scorer was just unable to apply the finishing touch when his strike partner returned the ball to the far post. Barcelos saw his glancing header comfortably saved by Norris as United kept up the pressure.
United went close on the hour mark when Bell’s free-kick saw Jack Westbrook beat Norris to the ball but his header came back off the upright and into the keeper’s arms.
And another chance came and went after Norris palmed away Bell’s cross but Johnson could only lift the ball over the bar on the turn. Bell continued to torment the City defence and he looked the player most likely to unlock the visitors’ defence.
City finally created a chance of their own when Craig Feeney’s glancing header from Adam Roberts’ cross flew past the far post. At the other end Bell cut inside but his low drive was saved by Norris at his near post.
Substitute Darius Browne was thrown into the fray as manager Mike Ford looked to make the difference from the bench. It needed something different to unlock a mean defence and lift the home crowd which was somewhat subdued in the second half.
Warren Bentley finally got his chance after City’s best build-up but his low drive from six yards was deflected over by Gunn. From the ensuing corner Newton’s effort came through a crowded six-yard box before being gathered by Jack Harding.
Substitute Duran Martin tested Norris with a low drive from 25 yards and Barcelos was unable to convert from the rebound but the flag had already gone up for offside.
The outstanding Bell cut inside Newton but his low drive was saved by Norris. The game began to open up in the closing stages and it took a timely interception from Michael Hopkins to cut out Feeney’s dangerous cross with Bentley ready to pounce.
But United finally broke the deadlock in the 86th minute. Harding’s free-kick was headed on by Johnson, Norris and Leigh Mills hesitated and Barcelos nipped in to slip the ball into an empty net.
In the final minute Andy Forbes saw his close range effort blocked by Westbrook and that was the last scare for United as they took their season to one more game.