Lowestoft Town through to playoff final
BURY TOWN 1, LOWESTOFT TOWN 2: A piece of individual brilliance from Lubomir Guentchev was the difference at Ram Meadow as Lowestoft Town claimed the bragging rights over Suffolk rivals Bury Town in the Ryman League Premier semi-final.
Guentchev's mesmeric run and cool finish midway through the second half befitted an enthralling encounter as Lowestoft kept their hopes of a third successive promotion alive.
A Sam Nunn own goal put Lowestoft in front in the 43rd minute but Bury got themselves level early in the second period thanks to Chris Henderson's close range finish.
Lowestoft proceeded to create a catalogue of chances but found Bury goalkeeper Marcus Garnham in fine form. However, there was nothing he could do to prevent Guentchev becoming the Trawlerboys' hero and they will now march on to Saturday's play-off final at Tonbridge Angels, who beat Harrow Borough 3-2 after extra time – with a place in the Conference set-up awaiting the winners.
The first half had a refreshingly open feel to it despite what was at stake for both sides. While the pitch was not conducive to free flowing passing football Lowestoft did their best to keep the ball on the floor and were making excellent use of the flanks.
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However, it was the home side that almost struck first blood when dangerman Sam Reed produced a fine turn and shot which Andy Reynolds did brilliantly to turn round the post.
That was about as good as it got for Bury in the first half though and Lowestoft gradually took control.
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Lubo Guentchev and Joe Francis were getting a lot of joy down the flanks and midway through the half Francis was desperately unlucky to see a shot flash across the face of the goal after some excellent interplay between himself and Adam Smith.
Smith was the architect once again in the 41st minute and when he got to the by line he picked out the onrushing Guentchev but the former Hendon man lashed his volley wide from 12 yards.
The travelling Trawlerboys didn't have to wait much longer though to see their side get the breakthrough in the 43rd minute. When Scott Mitchell's free kick hit the wall Andrew Cave-Brown had the presence of mind to keep the danger alive by looping a header into the Bury penalty area.
Forbes was on to it in a flash and got the slightest of touches to take the ball past Garnham. Nunn desperately tried to clear off his own line but succeeded in only helping the ball into the back of the net.
Lowestoft came flying out the traps at the start of the second period and only a wonderful save by Garnham stopped Guentchev extending Lowestoft's lead after a fine run and shot.
The visitors were left cursing Garnham's heroics even more in the 49th minute when Henderson hauled his side level. Lowestoft were caught on the break and Sam Reed found himself in acres of space down the right wing before crossing for the winger who had the simplest of tasks in slamming the ball home from close range.
Lowestoft's response was swift and a sumptuous flick from Nolan put Forbes through on goal. The former Norwich City star looked all set to put his side back in front but his right-footed toe-poke rebounded off the post.
Garnham was at it again in the 64th minute when he produced a flying save to deny Francis but there was nothing he could do to stop Guentchev shortly after.
Bury thought they had cleared the danger when the ball arrived at the winger's feet on the edge of the area but he flicked the ball between their defence and ran on to his own pass before sliding the ball home. It was a moment of pure class from the deadline day signing.
Bury pushed for an equaliser but the Lowestoft defence held firm although Reynolds was called into action to beat away a Kieran Leabon effort late on.
• Bury Town: Garnham, Hunter (Hitchings, 88), Nunn, Hipperson, Coulson, Nurse (Chaplin, 79), Bullard, Lee Reed, Leabon, Henderson, Sam Reed. Subs not used: Clark, Sloots, Pope.
• Lowestoft Town: Reynolds, Cave-Brown, Gaughran, Haynes-Brown (Crane, 79), Smith, Mitchell, Cockrill, Francis, Guentchev, Forbes (Fisk, 79), Nolan. Subs not used: Ainsley, Stock, Godbold.
• Referee: Steven Plane (Worcestershire)
• Attendance: 1,427