Play-offs, at least in the mind’s eye, take place on sun-kissed afternoons. Spring has sprung, pitches are miraculously immaculate once again despite a pounding all winter and for the winners, the sunlit uplands await.
Not in Spennymoor, though. It might be the end of April, but the temperature is struggling towards 2C and the first half of the Evostik North play-off semi-final against Burscough is enlivened by a blizzard. Sheltering under the covered terrace at the bottom of the slope the Arctic conditions almost obscure the home equalizer from view. A well-struck freekick low into the corner, apparently, but you’d have to ask someone braving the chill at the other end for confirmation of that.
In the end, though, it’s Burscough whose promotion hopes are frozen out. The Merseysiders grabbed a goal with their first attack: Spennymoor, hesitant in defending a corner, allow Liam Caddick time to get a shot away and it’s deflected past Dan Lowson. With defeats in the last two league games after a long unbeaten run, nerves begin to jangle.
Burscough were expected to keep bodies behind the ball and attempt to stifle. Spennymoor, in rampant form for most of this year after a watershed Boxing Day drubbing at home to Farsley prompted a major rethink, seemed nonplussed. The pacy passing game seen earlier in the season went astray; the will to battle for second balls drained out of the team. Burscough kept it simple and effective and seemed as comfortable as could be hoped for in a knife-edge play-off tie. Thoughts were already turning to how Jason Ainsley could switch things around at halftime when Craig Gott’s goal levelled it up.
The second half began with another early goal, this time for Spenny. Liam Henderson may not have intended to deliver a cross, but his swirling up-and-under left the defence bewildered, allowing Shane Henry to nip in and give the Moors the lead. Suddenly it was a different game. Spennymoor’s pace was back, every second ball fell to a black-and-white shirt and Burscough was pushed back. A third goal, this time for cult hero Gavin Cogdon, wrapped up the win.
As we found earlier this season, good things are happening at Spennymoor. Tonight’s crowd, boosted by a group from the official Darlington 1883 supporters club, highlights the growing goodwill the club is attracting. The Moors recently allowed Darlo to play a couple of games at the Brewery Field, free of charge, to help avoid a potential fixture pile-up as a watery winter took its toll at the Quakers’ regular Heritage Park venue. The club also made a big contribution to the Northern League’s Last Legs fundraiser, staging a ‘bonus walk’ to that Boxing Day game.
Back on the terraces, sympathetic murmurs of support from Gateshead fans added to the usual raucous retro-chorus of Spenny’s Song; with apologies to John Denver, and striking a chord with anyone old enough to remember Vaux Samson and the distinctive tang of Woodbines. In the clubhouse, post-game, Burscough’s officials are tweeting about the hospitality on offer. Not something you sense would be appearing on the official Real Madrid feed after the evening’s goalless draw in Manchester.
Brewery Field, Spennymoor, England.
Evostik League, Div. 1 North play-off semi-final, April 26, 2016.
Spennymoor Town 3 (Gott, Henry, Cogdon) Burscough 1 (Caddick)