A point from a 1-1 draw away at top half of the table rivals AFC Emley in their final NCEL Division One game of the season on Saturday was enough for Shirebrook Town to secure a very respectable fifth place finish for themselves this campaign.
With the division’s promotion and relegation places already virtually settled elsewhere, this was arguably the game of the day amongst the remaining sides chasing the minor places.
It always was going to be a tight affair, but Shirebrook were first to get their noses in front after the early sparring was out of the way.
It was a well taken goal by experienced midfielder Jordan Hall that gave the visitors the lead, striker Tom Mullen laying the ball off to the left along the edge of the Emley box after central defender Ross Henshaw had lofted a pass in from deep on the right.
It was a smart move and it left Hall with only home keeper Adam Lawler to beat, and he calmly stroked the ball into the net from 16 yards, just inside the right hand post.
There hadn’t been a deal in the contest up until then, but the game snapped into life after that with Shirebrook doing most of the pressing for the next 15 minutes, although without really testing Lawler in the Emley goal again.
On 35 minutes a meaty challenge by Danny Claridge infuriated the home side and earned the visiting left back a yellow card, and then it took a classy one-handed save from Shirebrook keeper Sam Andrew to deny Alex Hallam’s header at the back post off Max Leonard’s free kick from wide and deep on the right that followed once the game had been restarted.
Nonetheless, feelings were still running high in the home camp after Claridge’s misdemeanour and it took further yellow cards for both Emley’s Sam Jerome and Michael Tunnacliffe over the space of the next couple of minutes for West Yorkshire referee Nigel Haycock to regain control.
Just when it looked like Shirebrook might carry their narrow advantage into the interval, Emley equalised through skipper Paul Sykes, the ball falling kindly to him 10 yards out at the back post when Andrew looked to have been partially blocked as he tried to punch clear Leonard’s corner from the right.
Sykes made no mistake with his low strike, but the visitors very nearly regained their advantage straight from the restart through Mullen, who was only denied by Lawler coming quickly out and blocking his shot on the edge of the box.
Lawler kept Mullen out again, this time four minutes into the second half, a sweetly-struck 25-yard low free kick on the left that almost found its way into the Emley goal at the foot of the far post.
But then it was the home side’s turn to be frustrated, Shirebrook keeper Andrew having to save with his legs from Leonard on the front edge of the box to the left just before the hour.
Emley went close again through Steve Kenworthy on 67 minutes, but the centre forward’s eight yard header lacked any real power and the save ultimately proved fairly easy for Andrew.
Mullen was unlucky at the other end of the park two minutes later after the ball came awkwardly to him at the far post from Henshaw’s headed flick-on of Ricky Hanson’s free kick from the right.
Then two of Shirebrook’s second half substitutes, George Zeurner and Antony Rowley, combined well to almost fashion a goal for the visitors on 76 minutes, Rowley crossing the ball from wide on the left to the back post, only for Zeurner’s header to be blocked six yards out of the gaping net.
With four minutes to go, the visitors could have sealed it when Hanson’s ball over the top from the right caught the home defenders flatfooted.
Shirebrook went through three on one with Lawler, but the brave Emley keeper did just enough to deny Rowley at the near post on the right, taking a painful knock as he pushed the ball over the line and out for a corner, but that also came to nothing after Lawler had received treatment.
Despite that, it was the home side that almost had the final say a minute from the end of the game, although Doran Jordan’s mis-hit shot from just inside the box on the right hardly troubled Andrew in the visitors’ goal.
Shirebrook Town’s fifth-placed finish comes as a welcome one-place improvement on last season, despite finishing this topsy-turvy campaign with one point fewer than the Langwith Road side did last time out.
And, as a nice bonus, Shirebrook just managed to pip local rivals Clipstone on their end of season placing, a comfortable margin of goal difference separating the sides after the Cobras finished in seventh place on the same number of points.
AFC EMLEY: Lawler, Leech, Brook, Tunnacliffe, S Jerome, Sykes, Rose (Irving 54), Jordan, Kenworthy, Leonard, Hallam. Subs not used: R Jerome, Stewart, Townend, Wadsworth.
SHIREBROOK TOWN Andrew, Hanson, Claridge, Booth (Rowley 64), Henshaw, M Camm, Hall (Zeurner 68), Getliff, Moxam, Mullen (Bacon 75), Thompson.
REFEREE: Nigel Haycock of West Yorkshire.