Article and photo by Stuart Tree
Corinthian-Casuals left it to the last moments to clinch a playoff spot, snatching a late equaliser at Hythe Town to set up a repeat of last year’s dramatic 4-3 semi-final win at Greenwich Borough.
Harry Ottaway’s injury time header was enough to see Casuals over the finish line and leave their hosts dejected as Hythe missed out on a playoff spot themselves.
A win for either side guaranteed their season was extended into the knockout stages but Casuals could afford to draw, which would exclude in-form Hythe from the playoff picture.
With ten minutes remaining, an excellent strike from Hythe’s Zac Ansah put the Kent side in the hot seat but on the stroke of full time, Ottaway nipped in at the back post to delicately nod home to the delight of the travelling Casuals contingent.
The draw meant Casuals finish in 5th leaving Hythe in 7th agonisingly missing out on goal difference. Casuals will travel to Greenwich on Tuesday night in the semi-final with thoughts of last year on their mind.
“We’ve got great memories of the semi-final at Greenwich from last year and let’s hope we can create some more,” said Manager James Bracken after the match.
“That’s why we do this. Days like today and the feeling you get is better than any drug. It’s a natural high. It’s not just me as an individual. You look around and you’ve got your players, your bench, your fans, your family… everybody is feeling that moment with you.
“We’ve had plenty of these great moments in the three years I’ve been here and I’ll never take these moments for granted. We’ve had so many great days – moments where the hairs stand on the back of your neck and today we’ve added to that. Why? Because we were right up against it and could’ve been over for us. But we found it.
“We had injuries to key players today and that’s been the story of our season. Yet we still keep doing enough to keep going where we want to go. So Tuesday, we’ll be raring to go and hope to give everyone another fantastic night.”
Casuals started the afternoon in the playoff spots and a point guaranteed their involvement in the knockout stages for the second successive season. One hurdle stood in their way; Hythe Town who had lost just once in their previous 16 matches.
The Cannons had surged through the pack to have a late shot at the playoff picture and a win guaranteed them a spot themselves. This was a cup-final in every real sense.
Bracken’s outfit kept them relatively quiet in the first half and perhaps should’ve taken the lead themselves when Josh Uzun fired over from 15 yards.
Zac Ansah forced Corinth keeper Gareth Williams into an excellent one handed save when the ex-Plymouth striker let loose from 25 yards.
Ansah was in the thick of the action early in the second half but once again, Williams was able to prevent the Hythe hitman from scoring. A delightful lob looped up but the stand-in keeper was able to tip it away to safety.
Casuals had a claim for a penalty turned away when Uzun looked to have been bundled over in the box.
But it was Hythe who took the lead, with Ansah finally getting his rewards, curling his shot into the bottom corner to give Bracken and Casuals ten minutes to save their season.
Gabriel Odunaike could’ve been that saviour but his effort was expertly saved by Will Godmon and the deflection sailed to safety over the bar.
With time running out, Casuals forced a free kick and Captain Nathan Daly’s header looked to be going wide. With Godmon scrambling to the ball, Harry Ottaway appeared at the back post and nodded home from an acute angle to send the Casuals players and fans into rapturous celebrations.
Corinth held out for the seven minutes stoppage time and booked their place in the playoffs leaving Hythe in despair.