BROWNE ON THE BALL: Defeat will only make this Boston United squad stronger

Carl Piergianni.
Carl Piergianni.

Rene Steer struck his penalty true enough, but Sam Ashton guessed right.

And as the Chorley keeper pushed the Boston United defender’s spot kick onto his crossbar and back out onto the turf it was the Magpies who booked their place in the Vanarama North’s play-off final.

The visitors were mobbed by their 300 travelling fans, and they had every right to celebrate wildly.

Their promotion hopes remained alive courtesy of the stuff that dreams are made of, a sublime 95th-minute overhead kick which forced extra-time and a hero keeper who made three penalty saves in a tense and gripping shootout.

Chorley had just witnessed their Jimmy Glass moment.

Had United been in that position the scenes would have been just as ecstatic, possibly just as triumphal.

But instead, the Pilgrims dropped to the floor, numbed by an exceptional campaign which had ended so cruelly.

As Boston’s players, staff and fans attempted to hold back the tears, they had every right to feel hard done by.

They finished the season unbeaten in 12 matches.

They were knocked out by a side they were never behind to in 390 minutes of football this season.

They were 2-1 in front long after the allocated minimum four minutes of time added on had been played.

But they were out. Done. Gone.

But are they?

You so often learn more about a team and their character from the defeats, rather than the victories.

Chorley were still singing in their dressing room when Boston captain Scott Garner faced the press, promising the team will come back stronger next season, pledging a crack at the title.

Dennis Greene said likewise while Carl Piergianni - his forehead swollen and bloodied from battle - vowed that this setback will only make the team stronger and more determined.

As those younger players left the Jakemans Stadium dressing room for the final time this season, Marc Newsham shook them by the hand, telling them to enjoy their summer but to make sure they also return prepared.

There was no place for excuses or commiserations, this was a squad already focusing on improvement.

“Defeat doesn’t finish a man, quitting does. A man is not finished when he is defeated. He’s finished when he quits,” Richard Nixon famously said, and those words felt true on exiting York Street.

The Pilgrims had suffered their second play-off penalty shootouts defeat in four years.

But there was always a sense that the 2011 squad - including the likes of Anthony Church, Shaun Pearson and Jamie Yates - would go their separate ways.

The class of 2015 - the team which scored 75 league goals, lost just 10 of their 42 matches, and played with a maverick brilliance in the opposition’s final third - remain very much together.

Their goalscorers, providers and relentless defenders will be reporting for duty next season, each with an added determination and lessons learned.

Saturday belonged to Chorley. Can next season belong to Boston United?