Clay Cross Town's proud run in this season's FA Vase came to an end at South Normanton Athletic on Saturday, in a 2-1 extra-time defeat in the competition's third round.
The Millers’ last five outings had been dominated by cup football and none were more important than this one, starting the tie as the last Step 7 side in the Vase against a Shiners side two steps higher in the non-league pyramid.
The weather conditions were dismal with fog hanging low over the ground making visibility poor.
When a floodlight failed midway through the first half the large following from Clay Cross had to question if the game would actually reach a conclusion. The Millers, though, dismissed any distraction and attacked the home goal with gusto and with a little more fortune with several deflections they could have taken the lead.
A handball offence from a home defender was then judged to be just outside the area despite the clear marks in the soft surface where he’d stretched to block the cross only further frustrated the Millers. The interval arrived with the score still level and when the fourth floodlight finally flickered to life it signalled a further spell of unrewarded pressure from the Millers.
The opening goal came after 70 minutes when the ball fell favourably to Oli Simpson to put the Shiners ahead. Clay Cross continued to play the better football and desperately tried to reduce the arrears but they had to wait until the 84th-minute when captain Josh Scully hit his 20th goal of the season.
Questions were raised when referee Mark Tinsley failed to act on a handful of erratic challenges and in return delivered a flurry of yellow cards in defence of his actions that belied any belief from both camps.
Full-time arrived with the score still level and from that next restart the home side finally looked the stronger of the two sides and it took a double save by Millers keeper, Andy Topham, and then a goal-line clearance to keep their cup hopes alive. The Millers fought their way back into contention for the tie but the referee, Tinsley’s judgement still managed to evade him when home keeper, Curtis Hall, tackled straight through an advancing striker that warranted nothing less than a red card but saw him point towards a Normanton free-kick.
It was left to the Shiners to strike the winner when sub Ryan Nadine fired hard and low past Topham barely a minute into the last period.
The game lost its continuity soon after, with the official brandishing an array of yellow cards, with the final whistle signalling the end of the Millers’ memorable run.