Ilkeston FC are 90 minutes away from promotion after a stunning 1-0 victory at Workington on Tuesday night.
Kane Richards’s second-half goal was enough to send the Robins into Saturday’s play-off final at Curzon Ashton with a place in the newly-named National League North at stake.
The result was all the more remarkable given Ilkeston had conceded five goals without reply to Tuesday’s opponents in two previous meetings over the last month, but on this occasion they provided a stubborn resistance and scored a crucial goal to take them through.
In a scrappy opening, Callum Chettle was making things happen for Ilkeston and it was he who created the first clear cut chance of the match.
Bursting through midfield following a Workington corner he then played Eli Bako through on goal but the teenager cleared the crossbar when one-on-one with keeper Jonny Jamieson.
Workington had a penalty shout turned down when a cross hit a Robins defneder and the hosts screamed for handball to no avail, Conor Tinnion then having another appeal turned down after claiming a foul moments later.
Tinnion had Workington’s best chance of the half, his low shot creeping wide of the far post just before the break.
Ilkeston had been resilient from the off and Rob Duffy was denied early in the second-half when Gari Rowntree got back to deny him after Jamieson had been beaten to the ball.
Tinnion then burst towards goal, beat two defenders and blasted the ball over the bar from the edge of the box as Workington looked to edge ahead.
Instead it was Ilkeston who would do just that on 55 minutes.
James Reid played the ball across the box and after defensive indecision and a slight touch from Bako, the ball found Richards coming in at the far post who slotted the ball low past Jamieson with a first time strike that sent the travelling support into ecstasy.
Jake Simpson’s corner nearly brought a leveller eight minutes later but Kyle May’s eventual header hit the post.
Matt Tymon saw a header go wide from Rowntree’s cross and then couldn’t connect with a ball into the box from Tinnion as Workington continued to be a threat.
The Robins, however, were defending far better than in the clubs’ previous two encounters and denying Workington the chance of getting their passing game going.
Simpson plaued a one-two with Tymon before hitting a thunderous effort just wide of the far post, and despite Workington continuing to battle to the end, time ran out and Ilkeston could celebrate progress to Saturday’s final.
Ilkeston’s preparations for the game had paid off. Having travelled to Cumbria on Monday and stayed overnight, then enjoyed walks in the countryside and chill-out time during the day, the knock-on effect worked wonders as they deservedly earned the victory.
The switch to four defenders also brought rewards rather than playing 5-3-2 as has been the case much of the season, and in front of over 1,300 people the young Ilkeston side showed just what they can be capable of once again.
Tuesday, April 28, 2015:
Workington: 1 Jonny Jamieson 2 Jake Simpson 3 Gari Rowntree 4 Dan Wordsworth (c) 5 Kyle May 6 Gavin Skelton 7 Scott Allison (Anthony Wright 81) 8 Phil McLuckie 9 Matty Tymon 10 Alex Salmon (Gareth Arnison 65) 11 Conor Tinnion. Subs not used: Danny O’Donnell, Sam Smith, Alex Newby
Ilkeston: 1 Jordan Smith 2 Mitch Rose 3 James Reid 4 Joe Burgess 5 Joe Maguire (c) 6 Jack Lane 7 David Morgan 8 Callum Chettle 9 Rob Duffy 10 Kane Richards (Mike Williams 65) 11 Eli Bako. Subs not used: Matt Baker, Lawrence Gorman, Jake Wright
Ref: Mark Edwards
Star Robin: Joe Maguire