Goals from Matt Richards and Daryll Thomas send Ilkeston FC into the Evo-Stik Premier Division on a momentous day at the New Manor Ground.
D1 South Play-off Final
ILKESTON FC 2
Matt Richards 70
Daryll Thomas 72
LEEK TOWN 0
by Mark Duffy
JUST over 18 months ago Ilkeston was left without its beloved football team – taken away by the courts after endless financial horrors and legal wrangling.
Fans were left with gaping holes in their Saturdays and the New Manor Ground stood empty and helpless, with nobody knowing just how long it would take before life was pumped back into the town’s footballing community.
In total, 603 days passed between Ilkeston Town’s final match and this momentous encounter at the NMG last Saturday, with nearly 1,700 fans present to witness the completion of the Robins’ re-birth with promotion in the club’s first ever season.
It wasn’t entirely straightforward, with the hosts’ total domination not rewarded until the last 20 minutes of the game, but Matt Richards and Daryll Thomas finally struck within moments of each other to send Ilkeston into the Evo-Stik Premier Division.
The previous encounter between these two sides saw Leek win 4-3 on the same pitch just a few weeks ago, but there was never any likelihood of that scoreline coming anywhere near being repeated.
Leek had presumably come to frustrate the home side and catch them on the break, but while the first part of that plan may have worked to a point they were unable to offer any kind of attacking threat, much to the surprise of many onlookers as well as their own healthy gathering of travelling supporters.
But despite that scenario, Ilkeston still struggled to test goalkeeper Ben Chapman in the first-half. Most efforts were either from distance and threatened the town centre more than the goal itself, or clear cut opportunities that were close but off target.
It took six minutes for the first real shot of note, Will McCall cutting in from the right for Ilkeston and striking a low effort just wide of the post.
Tim Grice floated an effort too high for Leek on ten minutes after James Cullingworth and Dan Partridge had got in a muddle at the back, and Gary Ricketts’ shot suffered the same fate at the other end minutes later.
That Leek chance was as close as they’d get to even a shot for at least another hour, as it was became all Ilkeston in terms of possession and chances, Ryan Wilson volleying too high after a free-kick had been cleared to him on 18 minutes and namesake Laurie well wide with a long range strike moments later.
Ryan Wilson was a little closer on 29 with a fizzing drive from distance which flashed past Chapman’s left-hand post, and Thomas nodded past the upright on the half-hour from McCall’s cross.
The Robins weren’t making their pressure count, Jack Watts the next to fire too high on 35 and Richards soon afterwards hitting a low shot just wide.
Watts saw another crack deflected over on 42, and despite the hosts’ total control it was goalless at the break.
Chapman then had to make his first real save of the game on 54 minutes as Partridge, up for a corner a few moments earlier, couldn’t convert from 12 yards on the turn as his shot was well gathered.
Watts headed a corner just wide moments later and Ricketts put a similar chance over on the hour mark.
But the goal finally came on 70 minutes and it was a fine effort.
Cullingworth’s cross seemed to have eluded all interested parties initially but Ricketts collected and controlled at the far post before nudging the ball back to Richards who was waiting just outside the penalty area.
He took little notice of the enormity of the occasion and was calmness personified as he stroked the ball into the corner of the net off the inside of a post and sent the home fans into ecstasy.
And just two minutes later the win was effectively sealed. Ricketts was the architect again as he robbed a defender on the halfway line before feeding Thomas on the inside left channel, and he cut inside before powerfully firing a swerving shot past Chapman to raise the roof once more.
Ricketts then hit the bar with a header from Thomas’s cross on 76, before Leek’s first shot on target saw sub Ade Johnson fire in from range but Lloyd Allinson, who dealt superbly with what little was asked of him all afternoon, tipped his low effort wide, the resulting corner seeing Christian Millar put a fairly free header past the post from eight yards out.
But that was all the visitors would offer in response to Ilkeston’s prowess, and the hosts saw things out to record a famous and well-deserved victory.
Ilkeston: 1 Lloyd Allinson 2 James Cullingworth 3 Ryan Wilson 4 Laurie Wilson 5 Dan Partridge 6 Russell Cooke (c) 7 Jack Watts 8 Matt Richards 9 Gary Ricketts 10 Daryll Thomas (Francis Green 83) 11 Will McCall (James Reid 79)
Subs not used: Joe Wilcox, Josh Hill, Sam Duncum
Referee: Stuart Eagland (Lichfield)
Star Robin: Ryan Wilson