Willand Rovers 1 Melksham Town 3
Melksham skipper Gary Higdon slammed home an injury time penalty to seal the deal at Silver Street on Wednesday night and send his side into the Southern League for the first time in their long history writes Kerry Miller.
The 3-1 victory meant that Buckland Athletic needed to win their last four games by an aggregate of 30-0 to deny them and with the little matter of the Les Phillips Cup Final tucked among those, the visiting side allowed themselves the luxury of celebrating the runners-up spot in the assumption that Buckland would not be able to complete such a task. The scenario before the game was straightforward in that Willand needed to beat Melksham and then win at Buckland next Wednesday to snatch the spot from Melksham and on eight minutes the dream momentarily edged towards reality. Town striker Jon Davies had twice tested home keeper Mike Searle before Brett Worbey curled a free-kick past Rob Brown from an inch outside the penalty area to stun the travelling support which doubled the crowd and provided a tense atmosphere at evening.
Town winger Luke Ballinger was soon in the action as Melksham settled early and after he had an effort saved by Searle he challenged for a long pass and when he got the best of the defender tucked the ball under Searle for the equaliser on 16 minutes. In truth Willand never really recovered from that blow and after Davies drove wide from 30 yards Melksham struck again as Mike Perrott’s free-kick was flicked on by Higdon and Ballinger was on the far post to nod in the second. Another high octane attack was just thwarted by a hack off the line and it got worse for the home side when Fletcher Williams was carried off on the half hour with what looked like a nasty Achilles injury.
Melksham went for the jugular and Higdon nodded in a corner but was pulled back for a foul then Ballinger was just wide with a drive as looked for a rare first half hat-trick.
After the break Willand came out all guns blazing and substitute Dean Stamp had a cross headed clear then Worbey’s effort was cleared off the line but it soon fizzled out as Melksham took control again. Mark Cooper shot over then Searle pulled off a stunning double save to keep out Davies and Rob Hobbs late on before a flying Higdon was just wide with what would have been his 40th goal of the season. He would not be denied as in time added on Davies was brought down in the box by Joe Curtis and after the defender was sent off Higdon crashed in the spot-kick to officially start the party.
So Willand will fight another season in the Western League and are expected to be joined by fellow Devon side Plymouth Parkway in August while Melksham prepare for their Southern League baptism, swapping Longwell Green Sports and Wells City for the likes of Didcot Town, Gosport Borough and Slimbridge.
It has been a remarkable campaign at Oakfields where bad weather, a lull in form and a long run in the FA Vase all looked to be conspiring to put a spanner on the works. However, with Willand falling away temporarily mid season and Buckland always playing catch up with Bradford Town as they forlornly chased champions Street the Wiltshire men stayed in there and will now reap the benefits of a new dawn in a new home.
Press and Media Officer
Toolstation Western League