VERDICT: Brackley’s promotion hopes are ended in play-off final defeat

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Brackley Town’s hopes of finally securing a place in the Vanarama National League went up in smoke in the heat of the National League North play-off final.

Not for the first time, the Saints were unable to get over the line in the post season as two goals from Ashley Hemmings sealed a deserved 2-0 victory for Kidderminster Harriers as they ended a seven-year absence from non-League football’s top-flight.

There were few arguments as the curtain came down on a long campaign.

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Kidderminster were just that bit better on the day as they racked up an incredible ninth win in a row - a run of form that saw them sneak into the play-offs on the final day of the regular season before going on to seal promotion.

Brackley Town's players drop to the floor after their play-off final loss to Kidderminster HarriersBrackley Town's players drop to the floor after their play-off final loss to Kidderminster Harriers
Brackley Town's players drop to the floor after their play-off final loss to Kidderminster Harriers

For Brackley, it became another case of what might have been. With club captain Gareth Dean leading them as interim boss, they secured their play-off place and then defeated Gloucester City and Chester to move to within 90 minutes of elevation.

But, on the day and in front of a sold-out crowd at St James Park, they just didn’t hit their levels.

Kidderminster made a flying start and Amari Morgan-Smith should have put them in front when he was teed up by Krystian Pearce early on.

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But Brackley soon found their feet and Shepherd Murombedzi tested Christian Dibble with a fierce strike while, from the resulting corner, George Carline and Theo Robinson both saw goalbound efforts blocked.

But it was Kidderminster who were gifted the lead on 13 minutes.

Riccardo Calder raced over to the right-hand side to clear a ball forward but could only hit it into team-mate Jordan Richards and that allowed Hemmings to race clear before producing a composed finish to beat Danny Lewis.

That stunned Brackley and their supporters but they did finish the half the better with Richards firing high over the bar after a decent move while Robinson was just off target with a snap-shot on the turn.

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They started the second half with a bit of spring in their step as well but Kidderminster snuffed out any threat and then struck the killer blow on the hour.

There had already been a warning shot when Amari Morgan-Smith couldn’t get his head to a cross from the outstanding Joe Leesley.

But Hemmings, despite looking narrowly offside, made no mistake when he was played in by Zak Brown thundered home an excellent low strike beyond Lewis and into the bottom corner.

Dean threw on both Jimmy Armson and Levi Amantchi and eventually moved to four up front as Brackley tried to find a way back.

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But Hemmings so nearly completed his hat-trick when a fine long-range effort curled narrowly wide of the top corner.

The Saints struggled to get any change out of a solid Harriers defence but any hopes of a grandstand finish disappeared when Cosmos Matwasa’s shot towards an unguarded net was brilliantly blocked by Kyle Morrison after Callum Stead had nicked the ball away from Dibble.

That turned out to be the last notable goalmouth action as Kidderminster saw the game out to seal promotion and spark wild scenes of celebration from players and fans alike.

Brackley’s players, meanwhile, dropped to the ground, no doubt shattered both physically and mentally.

Unfortunately, yet again, it just wasn’t meant to be..

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Brackley: Lewis; Carline, Cullinane-Liburd (sub York, 74 mins), Walker, Calder; Murombedzi, Bates; Matwasa, Stead, J Richards (sun Armson, 64 mins), Robinson (sub Amantchi, 64 mins). Subs not used: Rooney, Smart.

Kidderminster: Dibble; Penny; Morrison, Pearce; Foulkes, Byrne, Leesley, Richards; Brown; Hemmings, Morgan-Smith (sub Knight-Percival, 90 mins). Subs not used: Palmer, Lissimore, Bearne, Hall.

Referee: John Mulligan.

Goals: Hemmings (13 mins, 0-1), Hemmings (60 mins, 0-2).

Booking: Matwasa (foul).

Man-of-the-match: Joe Leesley (Kidderminster).

Attendance: 3,015.