St Ives Town beat Yaxley and will go to Shepshed Dynamo with promotion in their sights

MANAGEMENT TEAM: Jez Hall and Warren Everdell, the managers of St Ives Town, discuss tactics against

MANAGEMENT TEAM: Jez Hall and Warren Everdell, the managers of St Ives Town, discuss tactics against Huntingdon. Picture: Louise Thompson. - Credit: Archant

SO it goes down to the very last game of the season with St Ives Town needing a win at Shepshed Dynamo to secure second place and the chance of Step 4 football next season.

The Saints went to Yaxley in the UCL Premier on Tuesday night needing to equal or do better than Spalding United at Cogenhoe – and they took all three points with a 1-0 win to stay one point clear of their rivals for promotion.

But it was a nervy game for the club’s management team, fans – and players, that much was obvious – as Yaxley fought tooth and nail to keep St Ives out, with the only goal coming in the 70th minute when Aaron Last poked his right foot at the ball during a goalmouth scramble to direct it into the roof of the net.

The reaction from the great turnout of St Ives supporters at Leading Drove was proof, if proof was needed, of frayed nerves and passion.

It might have been a less stressful night for everyone had Karl Gibbs’ fourth-minute header not stuck the crossbar but gone under it.

“We thought we’d nicked an early goal when we hit the bar but it just wouldn’t happen for us,” said joint manager Jez Hall, who along with Warren Everdell has worked hard all season to bring the club to the brink of promotion, and had to endure 70 minutes of torment in the penultimate game.

Two recent setbacks – home losses after the team had gone a whole year without losing a league game at Westwood Road – against Newport Pagnell Town and Huntingdon Town, had damaged the club’s chances of an historic promotion to either the Northern or the Southern League – and recent injury problems, with Jimmy Dean and Jamie Alsop both out, hadn’t helped either.

Most Read

But back in the team, Dean was an absolute rock in the centre of midfield, and Alsop was solid and reliable at right back. However, they still desperately missed a third injured player, the irreplaceable David Cobb, who watched the game with the fans behind the goals as the Saints attacked, willing the ball into the net with every intake of breath. They have missed him, possibly the best winger in the Premier Division, and it’s doubtful he will be fit enough for Shepshed.

Shepshed, at their Butthole Lane ground, will be a different prospect to Yaxley. Shepshed score goals – quite a lot of them. Yaxley are more of a defensive unit; Shepshed will be dangerous going forward. Until those last five minutes when they went close following a couple of corners and a free kick – hearts were in mouths – Yaxley offered little up front.

“Yaxley defend really well as a team and whatever you throw at them they get their bodies in the way,” said Hall. “You can see why they are involved in so many 1-0 either ways. So there was a real panic that it might go the other way.

“Always, when you’re pushing it, there’s a chance you might get picked off. Our goalkeeper made saves, their goalkeeper made saves, but on the balance of play we deserved it – but we could have done without that nerve-wracking last five minutes.

“It could have been a very comfortable evening if that early chance had gone in – But that wasn’t to be and however we did it, we did it.”

Gibbs’ early header pinged off the crossbar from an excellent Alsop cross, and Dean also went close, the Yaxley goalkeeper making a good save, while Dom Lawless was busy but often struggled on a bumpy Fen pitch to find the space to shoot; Will Fordham, the central defender and captain on the day, got his head close to a Gibbs overhead shot in the 29th minute as time began to drag.

Nick Bennion had very little to do in the first half and it wasn’t until the 53rd minute that the St Ives goalkeeper was forced into action, making a good save from a long-range shot to deny the home side who had begin to show a bit of ambition more than keeping a clean sheet.

Lawless struck the ball over the top of the goal after a decent Dean through ball and then Fordham burst through but his shot was easy to stop.

There was a lot of effort for no reward and fans were tense. Gibbs had another chance, this time heading the ball over the bar when left completely unmarked. It felt desperate.

But then Jon Stead sent in a free kick from the edge of the box and Yaxley couldn’t clear it. Aaron Last, who has been excellent in recent weeks and kept his place despite Dean being fit again –u Lee Ellison made way instead, shot his foot out and there it was: the goal that the majority of the crowd had been desperate for.

“So it’s as you were,” said Hall. “We thought we would have to win both of the games so we go to Shepshed as we thought we would, needing to win.

“Shepshed are a good side and there will be some sleepless nights between now and then.”

Indeed there will. To be continued...