So near, yet so far. That was how it turned out for Banbury United in the penultimate game of the season.
The Puritans will go into next weekend’s final Evo-Stik Southern League game against Kettering Town with nothing to playfor expect the club’s highest finish for many a year. United lost 1-0 at Leamington in Monday’s premier division derby and that ended their slim hopes of making it into the play-offs on the final day.
Jamie Hood grabbed the only goal of the contest midway through the first half and United never really looked like getting back into a game they had to win to stay in contention.
Manager Mike Ford made one change from the side which started against Hitchin Town, opting to start Ricky Johnson at the back and bring in Manny Duku to partner Conor McDonagh up front with Tom Winters starting on the bench.
Leamington started the better of the two sides and they had an excellent chance to take the early lead. The prolific Stefan Moore hit the underside of the bar from the edge of the six-yard box, the ball bounced just in front of the goal-line before being hacked clear.
But the Brakes scored what proved to be the winner in the 20th minute when a free-kick was not cleared and Hood hooked the ball home from six yards.
Leamington continued to control proceedings as the first half developed. Jack Harding did well to tip Moore’s free-kick around the post and moments later Ahmed Obeng raced down the left before shooting just wide.
As halftime approached, United finally began to ask questions of Leamington. Following a period of pressure, Luke Carnell’s cross was only cleared out as far as substitute Sam Humphreys just outside the area but his lofted shot over Tony Breeden also cleared the bar.
After the restart, United failed to build on their improvement at the end of the first period and Leamington came back strongly in the second half, going on to control the game again.
A cross ended with Jack Edwards heading just wide at the far post. But the remainder of the half was a non-event until late into stoppage-time when a corner from Winters saw Carnell head the ball into the ground before it bounced up and skimmed the top of the bar.
It was too little too late and United will be playing in the Southern League football again next season. But what an outstanding first season back in the top division it’s been for Ford and his young team.