Birtley advance to the play-off final on Monday following a dramatic penalty shoot-out with Horden Community Welfare, where only the width of a crossbar separated the two sides.
With so much riding on one game, the opening 20 exchanges were as cagey as you’d expect, with chances being few and far between. After twenty minutes Birtley switched to a 4-3-3 and the game started to open up, with the Hoops’ Aidan Rutledge striking the woodwork and Horden’s Jack Maskell firing into the side netting.
With the first half nearing its end, Birtley edged themselves in front, as Rutledge fired home a sweet half-volley following some exquisite control from Callum Smith. Horden almost pulled one back through Liam Wright but his powerful long-rang effort was deflected narrowly wide, and Birtley cleared the danger from the resulting corner.
Half-Time | Horden CW 0 – 1 Birtley Town
The game continued at the same frenetic pace after the re-start with Glen Hargrave getting his head to Alex Francis’ flick-on, only to watch the ball sail over the bar. Just before the hour mark, Birtley got the cushion their play deserved, as Rutledge doubled his tally with a header following a wicked free-kick from Liam Wotherspoon.
On 69 minutes Liam Wright was again unlucky not to score, as another rocket of a shot sailed just wide of the post, with keeper Conor Grant beaten. Horden were handed a lifeline in the 72nd minute when Callum Smith was given his marching orders for foul & abusive language. The Marras grabbed the opportunity with both hands and almost immediately found the net through substitute Josh Home-Jackson.
Birtley nearly re-established their lead shortly afterwards as another impressive Wotherspoon free-kick smashed back off the post. On 82 minutes, Horden got themselves back on terms as Jack Maskell slotted coolly past Grant. With Horden in the ascendancy, Birtley had to ride their luck, with Conor Grant doing superbly to deny Maskell a second, and Birtley’s rear-guard somehow managing to clear their lines following a goalmouth scramble, but to the Hoops’ great relief, the ref blew up after five minutes added time to take the game to penalties.
Full-Time | Horden CW 2 – 2 Birtley Town
Birtley had switched keepers in the dying embers of injury time, with penalty-specialist Isaac Robinson replacing Grant between the sticks. But neither he nor Horden’s Craig Foster were able to get a glove on what were ten well-taken penalties. Horden’s third spot-kick was to be the difference, as it bounced down off the crossbar and came down on the wrong side of the line. Birtley made no mistake with their remaining penalties, and Callum Turnbull slotted home the final kick to scenes of jubilation from the Birtley faithful.
Paul Bryson was delighted for everyone connected to the club. “I am delighted for the lads but more so for everyone connected to the club. To get to the final is a great reward for the hard work shown by the lads, the coaching team, our volunteers and committee. We have one more final hurdle, it’s been a great season but it would be fantastic to top it off with promotion.”
“I thought they started the better side. They were controlling possession without hurting us. I was surprised they changed the formation to match us. That is a credit to us that Horden respect us. They were dominating the ball and we had to make a change. We changed our formation and grew into the game. Aidan was unlucky when he hit the post and then he scored after a great set from Smiggs. We got in at half-time and tinkered a little bit one or two things. We sorted the problem that the number 10 was causing us. The second half was more like Birtley. We got on the ball and looked dangerous.
“Aidan then got us a second goal after a brilliant delivery from Spooner. At 2-0 it felt really comfortable. Then we are on the end of another unbelievable decision with Smiggs getting sent off. Fair play to Horden, they give it a right go and I mean a right go. They are a good side. We nearly won when we hit the post off another excellent Spooner set piece. They scored two to equalise and it takes the game to the lottery of penalties. Its a great way to win a game. I feel for Horden as it’s an awful way to lose the game. I have the upmost respect for Jonny Payne and Andy Colledge. Two lovely guys, proper football people but more importantly just good people.”
“We go onto Monday and welcome Lewis Orrell back into the side. I’m really pleased for the lads.”
Birtley will play their first ever play-off final when they travel to face Billingham Town on Monday in a 3pm kick off.
Supporters buses will be running from The Hanlon. For further details please contact Scott Brown or Paul Beat.