Boston United’s dreams of a late charge into the play-offs are over. No matter what the league table says.
A 1-1 draw against Nuneaton Town means the Pilgrims will not be able to sneak into the National League North’s top seven, give or take some freak results and a 10-goal swing.
The fact they were even in with an outside chance of doing so in the final week of the season - given the fact they were second-bottom in December - should be something to celebrate.
But it still felt like a bitter pill to swallow for the squad and fans when the final whistle drew a bizarre contest to a close.
Going into the game Nuneaton had nothing to lose and Boston everything to gain, and that showed in the edgy first half which had something of an after the Lord Mayor’s Show feel for the Pilgrims after back-to-back victories over the division’s top two.
And with the game played 24 hours late - at Alfreton - due to problems with the power at Liberty Way, the whole contest felt odd from kick off.
The match was 55 miles from Nuneaton and a million miles from Salfordian scenes of fans, flares and fun in the sun just four days earlier.
With the few supporters who travelled scattered about the ground the atmosphere was flat from the start, and the action equally as subdued early on, although Boston were much-improved after the break, victory only denied by some top saves from Ross Etheridge.
Ashley Chambers came close to putting the Borough in front when he broke clear and lobbed the ball over the onrushing George Willis, but Pilgrims skipper Jordan Keane read the trajectory perfectly and hooked the ball off the goalline.
Boston’s failure to clear their lines cost them in the 22nd minute as James Clifton and Jonathan Wafula should both have dealt comfortably with a routine ball on the byline before the hard-working Chambers dispossessed the latter and sent a cross to the back post where James Ferry nodded home.
Back came Boston, Ashley Hemmings going close with two inswingers and a header, while Brad Abbott fired wide from distance.
The first half then descended into madness as referee Barry Lamb failed to award three blatant penalties.
Niall Heaton handled in his own penalty area but the whistle stayed well away from the official’s lips, just as it did when Ryan Qualter took out Kairo Mitchell at the other end with a sliding challenge well off the ball.
Referee Lamb shook his head again when Daniel Nti was poleaxed in the United penalty area, but after consultation with his assistant decided to award a free kick.
More madness from a truly bizarre game.
Etheridge had a mostly trouble-free first half, but the Town keeper was called upon to deny Abbott’s stinging drive with his legs and hold on to Clifton’s effort as Boston resumed the action with a lot more purpose.
That persistence paid off in the 58th minute as Hemmings’ driven low cross was turned into his own net by Ryan Johnson.
The Pilgrims looked to build on their momentum, Etheridge holding on to Hemmings’ free kick and Wafula firing a long-ranger over.
Jake Beesley then had a golden opportunity to put Boston ahead when he broke free, but Etheridge blocked the strike and smothered Reece Thompson’s follow-up.
And the Borough stopper continued to frustrate Abbott with another two blocks.
Green could have won it for Nuneaton in the 90th minute, but his strike clipped the outside of Willis’ post.
And that’s how it ended, warm applause from the fans in amber and, perhaps, hope that next season could be one to remember.
NUNEATON: Etheridge, Dielna, Heaton, T. Elliott, Langmead, Johnson, Ferry, Nti (Nabi HT) Chambers, Green, Mitchell (Wright 76). Subs (not used): Steele, A. Elliott, Lyness.
UNITED: Willis, Clifton, Brogan (Smith 85), Thanoj, Keane, Qualter, Wafula (Middleton 76), Abbott, Thompson, Tshimanga (Beesley 62), Hemmings; Subs (not used): McGuire.
Ref: Barry Lamb.