Bracknell Town 0 Cheshunt 3 (4th May 2019)
I should probably have stayed away. I have a terrible record in play-off finals, both with Reading, and as a neutral. I have an even worse record watching my home town club, Bracknell. I have seen them play 12 times, and only seen them win once, and this wasn’t it.
It’s even worse at home, where not only would this would be my 9th game without seeing them win, but only once in those 9 games have I seen them let in fewer than three goals.
I was feeling rather more confident this time though. Virtually all of the previous eight visits to Larges Lane have been during periods when the team has been, to put it bluntly, diabolical. This season they’ve spent most of the season in a two horse race for the Isthmian League South Central title, until Hayes & Yeading pulled away, and they were unbeaten at home in the league all season.
The club has certainly turned things around since a troubling start to the 21st century, which saw the club struggle for results and supporters year after year. Crowds comfortably below three figures were normal.
Part of the change has been the smartening up of Larges Lane. Once a tatty venue, without an ounce of verve or character, it now feels like a club geared towards progress. That said, they have hamstrung themselves slightly by selling off every possible inch of land on two sides, meaning spectator accommodation on three sides is little more than the narrowest of footpaths.
Normally that would be sufficient for this level, but with 1000+ at this game, including maybe 250 from Cheshunt, it would make for somewhat “cosy” viewing in parts.
On an afternoon that would alternate between sun and light showers, Cheshunt kicked off, and for the opening spell looked the better team. The certainly had more of the ball, and definitely settled first, although chances were at a premium. After 25 minutes Cheshunt looked to be going ahead when a header looped beyond the Bracknell keeper towards the goal. With fans already celebrating, it struck the post though, and was hacked away. It should have been a warning.
Bracknell were slowly getting more into the game, getting the ball down and playing it wide. They were just having trouble creating much. Through balls were continually intercepted, and when they weren’t Bracknell had a frustrating habit of straying offside.
As the half wore on, a pattern emerged of Bracknell going forward, but being thwarted time and time again by Cheshunt’s dogged defence. It was like Cheshunt had an extra three or four defenders at all times, and every time a Bracknell attacker thought he’d got through, a telescopic leg would reach out and poke the ball to safety.
It felt like Bracknell were well on top now, and surely the breakthrough had to come, but then…
Bracknell had a free kick out wide, but it was a poor one, cleared towards the wing. A tackle was then missed, and suddenly Cheshunt were away down the left. With Bracknell struggling to get back, the ball was crossed into the box towards Cheshunt’s Shane Cojocarel. In space with the Bracknell defence exposed, he controlled the ball and clipped it past the Bracknell keeper to give Cheshunt the lead just before half time, backflipping in celebration.
Bracknell came out for the second half looking fired up, but it didn’t take long for it all to start going horribly wrong. Bracknell hadn’t seen a single one of a multitude of loose balls in an around the Cheshunt box fall kindly, yet just three minutes into the second half, a loose ball in the Bracknell box fell invitingly for Cojocarel to prod home his and Cheshunt’s second.
It still didn’t feel over. Bracknell continued to push up, but again and again, with the same outcome. An attack which scored 102 goals in the league was being comprehensively snuffed out. Five minutes later it was all over. A cross from the right was played into the Bracknell box, and again, the Bracknell’s defence looked stretched, and this chance was turned in to have the Cheshunt contingent thinking about promotion, and Bracknell thinking about miracles.
There was still well over half an hour left. In theory a comeback was possible, but it never remotely looked like happening. Cheshunt’s lock-tight defence repelled everything thrown at it, and Bracknell looked like they knew the game was up. Beyond a few half chances, the best being a header that was put over before the player really had time to aim, Bracknell were just crowded out every time by a defence that somehow seemed able to put two or three players on the man with possession at all times.
Tempers flared once or twice, almost as can be expected in these situations, where a team can see a year’s effort go up in smoke within sight of the finishing line, but the game was dead long before the final whistle blew.
I guess with my record I should have expected no better, but for the large number of Bracknell fans at the game, not to mention the players and officials of the club, it’s a hugely disappointing end to the season. Cheshunt take the glory and the promotion place, while Bracknell will now have to look towards next season, continuing the growth of the club, and hopefully not needing the extra two fixtures to achieve promotion next time round.