IT WAS hardly the Hand of God… but it was still worth a cool £4,500.
Ben Fairclough’s 66th-minute drive was enough to grant Boston United a much-needed victory over Kettering Town in Saturday’s hotly-contested FA Cup second-qualifying round.
But it was the controversial build-up to the goal which left the Poppies infuriated.
Before he squared for Fairclough to fire in from 12 yards out, Spencer Weir-Daley controlled the ball with his hand.
Ref Adrian Sannerude missed the infringement. Town keeper Laurie Walker couldn’t get his fingertips to the United winger’s fierce strike and the contest was settled.
It was a harsh way for the Evo-Stik Southern League side to exit the competition and - if rumours are to be believed – it could be a cruel way for the cash-strapped club to complete their last-ever match.
However, for Pilgrims boss Jason Lee, the £4,500 prize money was well deserved.
“I’ve heard the stories all week and as far as I was concerned there was no sob story – we just wanted to win a game of football,” said Lee.
“I wish them well and hope they survive and go forward.
“But we needed the win today.” John Beck’s long-ball approach saw the Poppies pressure the Pilgrims with a succession of long balls and throw-ins early on.
But despite the United defence coping admirably, the depth in which they were defending stifled the hosts’ counter-attacking.
With 20 minutes gone, Town midfielder Michael King’s refusal to stick to the game plan of punting saw him replaced by Ryan Hervel.
After a very long time sizing each other up the first clear-cut chance of the game came on the half-hour mark as Spencer Weir-Daley was put through on goal.
With Walker off his line the Boston striker attempted a lob, but the ball didn’t dip in time and landed inches over the bar.
Moments later and Marc Newsham saw a header drift wide of the mark.
And that was pretty much how a quiet first half ended, with Kettering’s best effort seeing the towering Pacome Gele – a threat in the air – prove he’s not as good with his feet, slicing a drive closer to the corner flag than the posts.
During the interval, Jason Lee chose to match the Poppies’ aerial threat, bringing on Mark Jones for Jason Stokes.
But it was from winger Fairclough that their next chance came.
With his pace making space for him, the winger fired a low drive across goal which, despite Walker’s scrambling, didn’t find the target.
However, Kettering then enjoyed their best spell of possession in the game.
A low drive into the Boston box was hacked away by the boot of captain Gareth Jelleyman, while Dan Haystead had to be alert to punch Hervel’s free kick away.
But back came Boston – and how they didn’t score is a mystery.
Gary Silk’s teasing cross was met at the back post by Newsham, who somehow crashed his header against the crossbar.
But that miss meant nothing seconds later as the Pilgrims opened the scoring… albeit fortuitously.
Newsham could have doubled the advantage almost immediately, were it not for Walker’s brave lunge at his feet.
David Mayo’s deflected effort almost brought Kettering level.
But Haystead was his equal, showing his agility to tip over.
The action was now end-to-end and a superb header from Mark Jones fell inches away from the Kettering goal.
But the Poppies’ refusal to wilt saw Haystead again pull off a top-class stop.
Phil Ifil’s low free kick went through a packed Pilgrims penalty area, where Ed Palmer’s flick seemed to unsight the stopper.
However, Haystead adjusted himself and somehow scrambled the ball away.
But not to be outdone, Walker proved he’s also got what it takes, his firm hand denying Weir-Daley from point-blank range.
And with that came the final whistle.
As Boston celebrated, Kettering’s players dropped to the floor before saluting their fans.
Could this be the end? Sadly, it looked that way.
UNITED: Haystead, Silk, Ward, Stainfield, Jelleyman, Fairclough, Milnes, Ross, Stokes (Jones 46), Weir-Daley, Newsham; Subs (not used): Marshall, Reed, Dyer-Stewart, Nuttell, Smith, Drury.
KETTERING: Walker, Ifil, Lamplough, Palmer, Gerring, Radford, Burns, King (Hervel 22 (Blazio 74)), Gele, Byerley, Mayo; Subs (not used): Blazio, Griffiths.
Ref: Adrian Sannerude.