Royston Town bow out of Southern League play-offs via penalty shoot-out lottery
- Credit: Archant
Like so many other play-off games over the years, this was not the spectacle anyone without allegiances at Garden Walk on Tuesday night had hoped for.
Just as Jose Mourinho and his ‘mundane’ champions-elect have batted away criticism this season with win after win though, it’s the victory that matters most.
So as Rob Nightingale struck his penalty, Royston’s fifth and final effort before sudden-death, at mid-range for Rovers’ keeper Kyle Forster to palm away, it was Barton that had the honour of celebrating their passage to the Southern League Division One Central play-off final.
A cruel way for the Crows to finish their season which had gathered steam in the latter part of the campaign.
Unbeaten in 13 games and having not conceded a goal in open play since late February, the lottery of the penalty shootout had claimed yet another victim.
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Up to that point, Royston would have been worthy winners, although perhaps due in part to Rovers’ reluctance to go for the jugular.
That being said, Barton were on top for the opening 20 minutes, with Royston keeper Ron Yates required to make a sprawling block at the feet of striker Tuki Tayali.
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Minutes later, Ben Sawyer exploded into life down the left, cut inside and forced Yates into another smart save, this time at his near post.
After a sluggish start, Steve Castle’s men duly responded. Former Brighton striker Gary Hart nodding down for Stevenage loanee Fejiri Okenabirhie to crash a shot straight at Forster.
Then came the game’s major talking point in the 41st minute.
Scott Bridges and Alex Condon went to war in a 50/50 scuffle for the ball and to Bridges’ astonishment, he was shown a red. Incensed by the decision and in the midst of a mass brawl, manager Castle was also told to sling his hook.
Just when Rovers looked to have been afforded a numerical advantage from the melee, already booked Peter Gatti did a little bit too much talking and consequently picked up his second yellow for an early bath.
Having coolled off during half-time, it was Royston, and in particular Kaan Fehmi, that used their aggressive energy more positively at the start of the second period.
Firstly, Forster had to be alert to block off the striker when through on goal.
Having failed from 15 yards, Fehmi then tried his luck from 25, curling a delicious effort that the Rovers custodian could only touch onto the post.
Within the tetchiness, a goal for the hosts seemed the likelier.
Jack Bradshaw’s efforts were foiled by the staunch Barton defence and soon after, Stuart Bridges curled another shot just beyond the far post and that was that for normal time.
With the tension rising, Jack Keating could have almost certainly settled the affair.
With the goal at his mercy, following Russell Bull’s cut-back, his six-yard shot was turned behind by Yates.
Likewise, with the tie in his hands, Crows’ substitute Luke Robins’ tame shot, with five minutes to go, was pushed away by the terrific Forster.
Having been in thwarting mood all evening, it was perhaps apt that Forster was to deny Royston one more time in the penalty shootout.
After impeccable Royston spot kicks from Fehmi, Robins, Okenabirhie and Bradshaw, Nightingale’s was sadly saved meaning heartache for the Crows.