Banbury United will be at home in the Evo-Stik Southern League play-off final if they can get past Winchester City on Tuesday.
The Puritans comfortably beat Taunton Town 2-0 in Saturday’s Division One South & West clash to seal second place at Spencer Stadium where first half goals from Felipe Barcelos and Zac McEachran earned three more points.
That means they will entertain either Taunton or Swindon Supermarine next weekend if they beat City in Tuesday’s semi-final.
In a game in which they needed to avoid defeat to hold on to second spot, the Puritans started brightly. Taunton failed to clear Mark Bell’s teasing cross and McEachran’s close range effort was saved by Lloyd Irish while Michael Hopkins fired over the bar following a neat build-up down the right.
United broke the deadlock in the 15th minute with a rare moment of route-one football. A Taunton attack broke down and quick thinking by Jack Harding saw him launch the ball downfield for Barcelos to outpace Matt Villis and beat Irish with an angled drive from 15 yards.
Boosted by the breakthrough, United looked to build on their advantage. Jack Westbrook should have done just that but his close range shot bounced over the bar after Ricky Johnson headed down Bell’s far post corner.
United continued to create chances. Bell robbed Jamie Short and broke into the box but Rob Farkins whipped the ball off Johnson’s toes before Barcelos saw his drive deflected over for a corner from which United’s top scorer saw his header saved by Irish.
United comfortably controlled the first half while Taunton posed little threat in the final third and Harding didn’t have a shot to save. United looked most dangerous on the counter attack and their pace troubled Taunton’s rearguard throughout the opening period.
United finally doubled their lead in the 39th minute when Barcelos took advantage of a mix-up between Irish and Farkins. His shot came back off the upright but Taunton failed to clear the danger and McEachran pounced to drive the ball past Irish from ten yards.
But United had a scare in first half stoppage-time when Jordan Rogers headed against the bar from Short’s free-kick.
After the restart Rogers fired over the bar with a shot on the turn as Taunton looked to quickly get back into the contest. The visitors enjoyed their best spell of the game but they always looked vulnerable to the counter-attack.
The game stagnated, it needed a goal to liven it up and the onus was on Taunton to get it. Rogers again went close when he fired straight at Harding from the edge of the box following Taunton’s best move of the match.
The second half was played almost exclusively in United’s half but Taunton never really looked like getting back into the game. Mike Ford threw on Leam Howards and Darius Browne to pose more questions for a tiring Taunton defence.
In the closing stages Johnson saw his goalbound shot blocked after good work by McEachran down the right.
Terrific trickery from Browne set up Howards who saw his close range effort deflected over just as United finished well on top. Howards returned the favour in stoppage-time but Browne volleyed into the side-netting.