An 88th-minute winner from Kris Newby sent brave Needham Market out of the Ryman League Division One North play-offs at Witham Town on Tuesday.
The sides had been separated by 11 points in the league after Witham missed out on the title on the last day and Needham sneaked into the play-offs after overcoming a six-goal deficit on goal difference with a 7-1 win on Saturday.
But there was next to separate the sides on the night with the game balanced on a knife edge until winger Newby’s late low strike from the edge of the area, after selling Daryl Coakley a clever dummy, beat Andrew Plummer at his near post.
There was controversy ahead of kick-off when Witham named on-loan Needham striker Lee Townrow in their starting line-up, despite visiting officials claiming there was a gentleman’s agreement not to play him.
Needham had the better of the chances in the first half with Luke Ingram stinging the home goalkeeper Martyn Guest’s fingertips in the fourth minute, while Chris Hogg had a far-post header saved and Sam Newson found the roof of the net with a volley after Guest sliced into his path.
At the other end Sam Nunn had to head over his own bar to avert danger and the lively Tom Wraight found Andrew Plummer behind his long range drive.
Needham started on the backfoot as play resumed with Plummer having to parry out Newby’s long-range drive before they gradually began to shift the balance of play in their favour.
They had a number of chances to take the lead but Brothers’ header was caught at the second attempt by Guest and the number 11 fired well over after being put clear, while Hogg also put over the bar.
There was a sign that it was not to be Needham’s night when a big appeal for handball against Townrow from Coakley’s dangerous cross was waved away.
Witham were stretching their backline on the counter and made the all-important breakthrough two minutes from time through Newby,
Needham rallied again, with Plummer going up for a late free-kick in four minutes of added time, but it was to be a second successive season of play-off heartbreak for the Marketmen, having lost last year’s final to Enfield.
* See Friday’s Bury Free Press for reaction.