On the final day of the season – knowing that a point would be sufficient to achieve a playoff position – Ilkley Town AFC recorded a thrilling 3-2 victory over a strong South Liverpool side. Sam Dexter’s side led at the interval thanks to goals from Tom Smith and Nicc Hewitt, and a late strike from Ben Clarkson helped the Baht’atters hold their nerve to claim a vital three points, writes Matthew Lambe.
Ilkley understood the importance of this grandstand fixture, so played with tenacity from the whistle; Town won a corner almost immediately, and only a fabulous save from Liverpool’s keeper Lucas Allan stopped Matt Swift from scoring with a towering header.
Previous fixtures against South Liverpool have often been entertaining, meaning Ilkley were under no illusions regarding the potential of the visitors. This was evident as they looked to threaten from a dead ball, but a fine stop from Tim Edney kept them at bay.
In the 36th minute, Tom Smith bagged his 16th goal of the season with a poacher’s finish. After Tom Fleming saw his effort blocked from Dean’s darting run, Smith reacted quickest to tuck the ball into the bottom corner.
With the final action before half time, the Baht’atters doubled their advantage. Alfie Dean’s corner was met by Hewitt – whilst Harry Brown pulled several defenders away from the box with a decoy run - whose cushioned header found the roof of the net.
The visitors halved the deficit barely five minutes into the second half; Jack Mountford’s strike from close range flew into the top corner, setting up a tense final 40 minutes.
The Baht’atters faithful were bound to have had their hearts in mouths as, only moments later, Liverpool were through on goal – but thankfully Edney produced another reflex save.
At the other end of the MPM Stadium, Smith was denied of a brace after he was deemed to be offside. He slotted beyond Allan following smart play from Dean, but his celebrations were abruptly halted by the linesman.
Ilkley continued to push for a third and were almost rewarded with a classy team goal. Dean and Fleming exchanged passes to beat the oncoming defenders before squaring the ball to Nathan Hunt, but his effort was saved by Allan.
Approaching injury time, Sam Dexter’s side restored their two goal cushion, courtesy of Clarkson. George Gomersall took the ball to the corner flag, then nutmegged his man and drove into the box before finding Clarkson, who fired home between the goalkeeper’s legs.
However, the visitors hadn’t given up yet - winning a penalty deep into injury time. Winger Owen Hough converted with a powerful strike to reduce their deficit to one once more.
Hough’s goal proved to be the last action, as the referee blew for full time before play could restart, confirming the Baht’atters place in the playoffs. Additionally, with Euxton’s loss to Chadderton, Sam Dexter’s side climb up to 4th – a monumental improvement on last season, where a win was required on the final day of the season to ensure survival.
As such, Town will face FC St Helens away in the playoff semi-final, with the game taking place on Saturday 22ndApril.
(Photo Credit: South Liverpool)