Billingham Town 2 Birtley Town 2 (4-5 after penalty shoot-out) – Division Two promotion play-off final:

Despair and joy came with the last two kicks of the season.  A penalty saved, a penalty converted.   Another season in Division Two for Billingham Town.  Promotion for Birtley Town.

In a see-saw match, Birtley won it the hard way:  taking the lead, conceding an equaliser and then falling behind before equalising themselves with only four minute of the 90 to go.

And they despatched five out of five in the penalty shoot-out to win promotion.

It capped a remarkable season for the team in the hoops, but spare a thought for Billingham Town who showed a bagful of character to come back and get within minutes of promotion themselves, only to fall at the last hurdle with the second last kick of the season.

The game itself was a bit strange – some great chances along with the goals – but long periods when they two teams were able to contain each other’s attacking ambitions.  In the opening 15 minutes both came close to opening the scoring:  Billy Town defender Tom Price with a great sliding tackle to stop an Aidan Rutledge shot and then Billingham No. 10 Luke Spalding taking a through ball to get one-on-one with Birtley keeper Conor Grant who was able to spread himself to push the ball wide.  Spalding continued to be a threat throughout the game.

Birtley took the lead with the last kick of the half.  Liam Wotherspoon hit a weak shot that somehow squirmed past Billingham keeper James Winter at the near post before creeping over the line.

Billingham created a couple of openings after the re-start.  Mathew Wade seeing a shot taken at the second time of asking by Grant who then punched away a cross by Dave Gordon with Jack Pounder running in on goal.  Birtley replied in the 65th minute – Glen Hargrave hitting a shot against the post.  Two minutes later Billingham were level.  Spalding found Pounder with a cross and the No. 9 turned the Birtley defence before scoring in the top right corner, giving Grant no chance at a save.

Birtley countered by hitting the post for the second time, this time it was Rutledge who rattled the woodwork before Billy Town were able to clear the ball from close to their goal line.

The final swung Billingham’s way in the 75th minute.  Paul Braithwaite found Spalding, with his shot well saved by Grant but Braithwaite was able to hit a follow-up shot that careered off a defender guarding the line and into the net.

The visitors were reduced to 10 men when Sam Hedley was sin binned for dissent but there was still enough time for a Birtley equaliser.  Billingham Town had done a pretty good job of containing Rutledge but it took him only a second or two for him to lose his marker at a corner and find the net with a glancing header to send the match to the shoot-out.

It was all square after the fourth spot kick but Grant was able to get to Billy Town’s fifth and Callum Turnbull tucked away Birtley’s fifth to propel the club into the First Division and start the celebrations on and off the pitch.

Love them or hate them, the play-offs certainly draw the crowds, with 1,315 turning up at Bedford Terrace to see the final.

Mike Snowdon