There was to be no last-day drama at Kenilworth Road as despite a 2-0 win over Stevenage the Town had to settle for an eighth place finish in their first season back in the Football League.
Needing to win and win well and hope Plymouth lost comprehensively at Shrewsbury, the Hatters eased to victory against a much-changed Stevenage side, but Argyle’s win by the same scoreline in Shropshire meant there will be no Play-Off excitement for the Town this year.
The Town started well – the trouble was so did Plymouth, taking a third-minute lead at Shrewsbury. But two minutes after that strike the Hatters were ahead themselves. Elliot Lee’s low shot was parried by Boro goalkeeper Chris Day into the path of Mark Cullen and the Town’s leading scorer gleefully pounced to tuck home his 14th goal of the season.
“8-0, we’re gonna win 8-0” reverberated around Kenilworth Road with the Town faithful in full voice – but probably unaware of Plymouth’s early opener.
The Town continued to pour forward in search of the necessary goals with Stevenage, eight changes and all, unable to threaten Elliot Justham’s goal. Skipper Stephen McNulty whacked a volley over the crossbar on 11 minutes before the Town forced corner after corner.
Cullen and Lee almost combined to good effect on 18 minutes and Luke Wilkinson saw a shot deflected behind two minutes later as the Hatters continued to boss proceedings.
The atmosphere inside Kenilworth Road had gone flat in knowledge of Plymouth’s advantage and word (or Tweet) soon arrived that Argyle had doubled their lead shortly before the half-time.
But no sooner had the Devon side scored their second, so did the Town – and in spectacular fashion. Cameron McGeehan showed desire to charge through a number of challenges on the edge of the box to guide the ball into Michael Harriman’s direction, and the on-loan QPR right-back swept in a first-time volley from the edge of the box high in the top corner past Day. “The best goal of my career!” said the defender post-match.
Ahead at the break the Town knew they were keeping their end of the bargain, and in the second half as Plymouth’s grip on victory at Shrewsbury became more apparent, the Hatters upped the ante in search of more goals to end the season with a flourish.
A flood of chances fell their way, too, with Day’s goal living a charmed life in the second period. Cullen flicked a shot wide after good approach play from Lee five minutes after the restart before McGeehan was then crowded having been found by a superb left-wing cross from Jake Howells.
Cullen forced Day into a save on 65 minutes and then dragged a shot wide on his left foot a minute later. Two minutes further forward, as the opportunities came unabated, Luke Wilkinson’s towering goal-bound header was cleared off the line.
Harriman, sensing a rare double, swept a fierce drive wide of the target before Lee found the gloves of Day when well-placed as the Town’s shots-on-goal tally continued to rise.
In comparison Justham was a virtual spectator at the other end of the field, although the stopper twice kept out ambitious efforts from Boro’s Jack Jebb as the final 10 minutes approached.
With the hope of a miraculous Shrewsbury turnaround well and truly forgotten, the final chance of the Town’s season came with a minute left on the clock when Lee went for goal again, only this time his effort wide of the mark.
Justham and Harriman combined to deny Boro at late consolation following Calvin Zola’s lob but the last word of the Hatters’ season came from captain McNulty when he coolly chested back the ball to his goalkeeper under pressure – and that was.
Hard to believe where the time as gone. It only seems five minutes since the 1-0 win at Carlisle. The Town are back in the Football League and gave it a right good go. The players are back in training in two months’ time. League football will return once more to Kenilworth Road in August. See you then – have a great summer #COYH
Town: Justham, Harriman, Griffiths (sub Kinsella 78), McNulty, Wilkinson, Smith, Doyle (sub Hall 73), Howells (sub Guttridge 75), McGeehan, Cullen, Lee. Subs not used: Lacey, Wall, Oduwa, Kinsella, King.
Attendance: 10,054, including 1,032.