By Ryan Batty:
Despite a stunning effort from Callum Saunders that saw the Dabbers lead at half-time, Nantwich Town’s season ended with heartbreak as they succumbed to a second-half fightback from local rivals Warrington Town in the Evo-Stik Premier Division Play-Off Semi-Final.
Nantwich were denied a dubious penalty decision with ten minutes to go, the score 2-1 to the Wire, that could have shifted the whole momentum of the game.
However, the raucous home support at Cantilever Park powered their side onto victory as the Yellows move on to face South Shields in the play-off final.
Warrington opened the game as the better side, putting bounds of pressure onto the Dabbers, but the Nantwich defence kept firm. The backline, missing the vociferous shouts from Joel Stair, did perform superbly in the first forty-five to keep out a dangerous Warrington attack.
Tony Gray was perhaps the biggest danger man for the hosts, as he tested Lloyd Allinson on several occassions, though the loanee-goalkeeper put on a fantastic goalkeeping display to keep the scores level.
However, fairly against the run of play, Nantwich took the lead just before the half-hour mark. Callum Saunders found room in the box and hit a phenomenal scissor kick to give the Dabbers the lead. The goal from Saunders confirmed him as Nantwich’s 2018-19 leading goalscorer for the campaign, scoring seventeen goals.
At the break, Nantwich led the proceedings, with supporters dreaming of their first ever away play-off victory.
Warrington’s change at the break saw Bohan Dixon replace Mitch Duggan.
Jamie Morgan could have extended the Dabbers’ lead ten minutes into the second half, as he stretched his legs down the right side, though there was no end product as his driven cross-cum-shot towards the back post wasn’t turned in.
Warrington equalised moments later as Jack Dunn’s corner found the head of Ben Garrity, who rose the highest to head past Allinson.
The scores were evenly poised until the seventy-ninth minute, as, despite a superb save from Allinson denying the Wire of taking the lead from a direct free-kick, the susbequent corner once again found Garrity who gave his side the lead.
Ricardo Fuller came on following the goal to replace James Lawrie as the first Dabbers change.
With five minutes to go, Fuller was taken down in the box, with later photographic evidence confirming that it was a penalty, the referee waved away the protests that could have seen the dynamic of the game swing the opposite way.
Warrington would extend their lead moments later as a free-kick smacked off the bar and hit the head of Allinson to find the back of the net.
Louis Barnes was sent off in injury time for a late challenge on Dunn, a questionable decision considering some of the challenges the referee had given throughout the game.
With Nantwich throwing caution to the wind and going full steam ahead, Warrington caught the Dabbers on the break as Dixon’s cross found Gray, who hammered home to send the Yellows into the play-off final.
Nantwich’s promotion hopes were dashed at the first hurdle, but will be hoping that they can learn from their mistakes next season.
Warrington: McMillan, Duggan (Dixon 45′), Whittle, Garrity (Vassalo 90′), Roberts (C), Raven, Beeley, Evans, Gray, Dunn, Mackreth (Benjamin 85′)
Subs not used: Amis, Cusani
Nantwich: Allinson, Morgan, Barnes (off 90+2′), Davis, Bourne, Hughes (C), Lawrie (Fuller 80′), Bell, Glover, Cooke, Saunders (Malkin 86′)
Subs not used: Mullarkey, McDonald, Read (GK)
Ref: Mr G Rollason