Ilkeston Town seal NPL Midlands title with last day win at Wisbech
The Robins did what they had to do against the bottom-of-the-table side, this being their third promotion in three seasons if you remove the Covid-curtailed campaigns wiped from the record books from the equation.
The final throes of this title success haven’t seen Martin Carruthers’ men convince as much as they had during many other parts of the season, despite six wins in seven games in the closing stages being enough to ultimately claim the big prize as they were pushed all the way by the likes of Chasetown, Halesowen and Stamford, who along with Belper Town will compete in the play-offs to join Ilkeston at step three in August.
Indeed, this final display was far from pretty all round in the windy Cambridgeshire Fens but, once again, it mattered not a jot given the prize at the end of it all.
And when all is said and done, the many pats on the back given out as players and fans celebrated were fully deserved given how much of the campaign saw Ilkeston heading the standings and some of the eye-catching displays put on in the process.
In fact, Carruthers had to watch this final effort from the side lines due to a touchline ban dished out during the week, his assistant Wayne Hallcro and coach Kelvin Wilson in charge from the bench and requiring many lectures from the referee as their frustrations sometimes got the better of them.
As a spectacle, the game was poor – the hosts going through the motions after a difficult season that has seen them accumulate just 18 points although at times they seemed to relish the challenge of knocking the Robins from their tree.
A first-half of few chances saw Ilkeston’s Montel Gibson force a good save from Luke Pearson, with Remaye Campbell blasting the rebound too high ten minutes in.
First blood eventually went to the Robins on 36 minutes. Jared Bird was brought down some 30 yards from goal, with captain Kieran Fenton on hand to deliver another of his trademark strikes perfectly into the top corner of the net to spark wild scenes amongst the large number of Ilkeston fans present.
Campbell forced Pearson into another save right on half-time but the break arrived with the job half done for the visitors.
The second-half also wasn’t much to look at but Ilkeston got their second goal just after the hour mark.
A Wisbech corner was cleared which resulted in a considerable charge upfield from five Ilkeston players on the counter-attack, the ball eventually reaching Dan Bradley who danced past two defenders before being clipped by a third in the penalty area and a spot kick was awarded.
Campbell stepped up to find the net from 12 yards and spark more joy behind the goal, including from his manager.
The job seemed done but this wouldn’t have been Ilkeston of late without a degree of worry, that being generated with 12 minutes left when a long clearance found Sam Bennett just outside the penalty area and he drilled low past Saul Deeney to reduce the arrears.
Deeney then had to produce a superb stop to deny Danny Draper in stoppage time – a goal then would have made things very jittery for the Robins as they defended against a degree of bombardment from both their hosts and the wind.
But the final whistle soon came, the celebrations began, and the Robins were deserving champions once again.
Wisbech: Pearson, Newman, Taylor, Keeble, Wilson (Lewis 75), Maddison (Lukyamuzi 78), Vieira (Hempson 78), Armond, Bennett, Murphy, Draper
Ilkeston: Deeney, Verma, Bennett (Goodson 26), Bradley (Reid 90), Irvine, Fenton, Thomas, Bird, Campbell, Gibson (Troke 78), Brown-Hill
Not used: Maguire, Carvell.