AFC Sudbury’s promotion dream ended in cruel fashion in a penalty shootout defeat to Brentwood Town at The Wardale Williams Stadium on Wednesday.
After neither side could break the deadlock over 120 minutes, despite AFC’s Craig Parker hitting the crossbar and having a header cleared off the line, a shootout decided the contest.
James Baker and Chris Newby saw their spot-kicks saved by man-of-the-match Ollie Bowles with Brentwood scoring all of theirs to win 4-1 and set-up a final at home to Thurrock on Sunday.
AFC supporters could not believe how their side were not ahead at the break after creating all the clear-cut chances.
Striker Luke Callander got a sight of goal within the opening 20 seconds and forced Bowles to make a diving save to his right.
Eight minutes later top scorer Newby fired a fizzing volley from range over the bar as the Yellows dominated the opening 15 minutes.
Newby saw a free-kick pushed away by Bowles, who then saw the ball come back into his box with Craig Parker crashing against the bar just before the half-hour mark.
Brentwood’s only real opening of the half came in the 35th minute when a poor pass by Callander was pounced on by Sam Bantwick and he played lone striker Sherwin Stanley down the inside left channel, but he could not get his shot on target with Marcus Garnham and Ryan Henshaw doing well to close his angle down.
Bowles was called into action again two minutes before the interval with a point-blank diving save to claw out Parker’s effort after a corner was played back to Ben Robinson and his ball into the box was knocked on by Ollie Berquez before Parker flicked it towards goal.
The second half began with AFC keeper Garnham having to make a good block from Batnwick’s shot with Baker quickly clearing.
Stanley glanced a header from a free-kick wide of the far post as Brentwood made a strong start.
But AFC were soon asking their own questions of Bowles again with the keeper having to push away a Callander shot on the turn, while he gathered at his near post from Newby’s effort after cutting in from the left wing in the 68th minute.
The game began to stretch with James Love wasting a good chance for the visitors when trying to chip Garnham after being put clear.
Baker headed over from a corner at the other end and Callander was denied by the legs of Bowles this time.
The keeper was also called into action to block an Ollie Berquez header from close range.
As the full-time whistle approached Brentwood had a good chance to win it at the death but substitute Tom Richardson’s header from Bantwick’s right-wing cross went just wide of the far post.
In the first half of extra-time Bantwick went down in the AFC area under Baker’s challenge after a poor backpass from Josh Kerridge, but received a yellow card for simulation.
At the other end the hosts came agonizingly close to breaking the deadlock when Newby’s free-kick was headed goalwards by Parker with Bowles stranded, but Martyn Stokes headed off the line.
Brentwood were reduced to 10 men in the 108th minute after Shad Ngandu received a second yellow card for a late challenge on Clarke.
From the resultant Newby free-kick, Henshaw headed onto the roof of the net.
But AFC had to rely on Garnham to make a fine save at the other end when Richardson was put clear.
As the Yellows pushed for a late winner, Clarke ran on to Callander’s flick-on but rifled a left-foot shot over the bar with the tie going to penalties.
Richardson sent Garnham the wrong way before Baker saw his saved.
Dobbs dispatched the next while Parker found the top-right corner.
Love repeated the feat with an equally confident penalty, but Newby’s was saved by the feet of Bowles after opting to put it down the middle.
Stokes then converted to ensure AFC will remain in the Ryman League Division One North next season.