MATCH VERDICT: Extra special night for Spalding United

Jonny Lockie leads the celebrations. Photos by Tim Wilson
Jonny Lockie leads the celebrations. Photos by Tim Wilson
  • Evo-Stik Northern Premier League First Division South play-off semi-final - Spalding United 3 Stocksbridge Park Steels 2 (after extra-time)
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What a night – unforgettable, dramatic and just absolutely incredible!

Spalding United gained the advantage but were brought back on level terms twice before finally delivering the knockout blow thanks to super-sub Jonny Lockie.

A moment of magic in the first minute of the second period of extra-time saw off Stocksbridge Park Steels.

Lockie, who celebrated his 18th birthday earlier this month, showed composure and a touch of pure class.

He had only started five times all season and scored three goals – just one of those coming in the league.

But this was a chance to shine and he took it with the quality which shows why Leicester City and Burton Albion have already given him a trial.

Matt Varley takes the first-half penalty which put the Tulips ahead

Matt Varley takes the first-half penalty which put the Tulips ahead

Conor Higginson fed the ball into space and Lockie raced into the penalty box, turning past a defender and firing inside the near post.

That proved enough to seal a spot in Saturday’s play-off final – but only just.

At the end, Spalding were hanging on and desperately trying to protect goalkeeper Michael Duggan.

He simply had to carry on, despite the pain, and the Tulips knew he would be barely able to move if the tie went into a penalty shoot-out.

Lee Beeson heads home for 2-1

Lee Beeson heads home for 2-1

So they had to win it – but the character of this very special set of players has never been in any doubt since they were brought together last summer.

They have achieved the Tulips’ highest-ever league position. Now they must finish off the job, whatever it takes.

Although the semi-final eventually provided plenty of drama, the early exchanges were edgy and pretty poor to watch for a bumper crowd.

Leon Mettam – who was looking sharp until injury saw him being replaced by Lockie – had the first couple of efforts and Lee Beeson also went close twice.

It seemed that Spalding’s bright start would get no rewards before the break.

However, the deadlock was broken with just two minutes left in the first half.

Beeson’s free-kick was a poor delivery, yet Park Steels failed to clear the danger and Matthew Reay tripped Nathan Stainfield in the box.

Higginson was the only Tulip to score from the spot in five previous attempts – but he was still on the bench, so up stepped Matt Varley.

Pressure, what pressure? Cool as you like, Varley put the ball in the back of the net.

Two minutes after half-time, though, Stocksbridge hit back.

Joe Lumsden’s long-range drive hit the underside of the bar and bounced up for Richard Stirrup to nod the ball past Duggan.

The division’s number one goalkeeper needed medical treatment soon afterwards to add to the tension because the Tulips hadn’t named a substitute shot-stopper.

On the hour mark, they regained the lead – and it came in sensational style.

Stainfield stayed forward following a free-kick and, on the left wing, he delivered a magnificent cross to the far post where Beeson rose for Spalding’s second goal.

Another leveller came as Harrison Biggins sent a free-kick into the penalty area and the ball evaded everyone to nestle in the far corner.

As the game went into extra-time, Park Steels were stronger and Spalding had been forced back.

Then, at the start of the second period, Lockie struck to spark wild celebrations on and off the pitch.

It wasn’t all over yet!

Varley and Higginson nearly eased the nerves – but, as keeper David Reay moved up front, Park Steels couldn’t quite force a shoot-out.

Spalding’s spirit has taken them so far – now they have one more step to go up.