Hayes 0-2 Pilgrims
by Barbara Singleton
It was the ultimate day of destiny. And Boston United met the challenge with relish to make an historic step into football's big-time. By virtue of their triumph at Hayes, the Pilgrims hoisted themselves into the Football League on an afternoon of high emotion in Middlesex. It was a remarkable achievement for a club which less than four years ago was struggling at the wrong end of the Dr Martens League. But the man with the Midas touch - manager Steve Evans - has helped to oversee an amazing transformation which has culminated in United hitting previously unscaled heights. The Pilgrims' triumph at Hayes' Church Road ground was kick-started by an early breakthrough from midfielder Simon Weatherstone. Things briefly looked a touch ropey when Peter Costello was sent-off for a second bookable offence one minute into the second half. But almost immediately, substitute Ray Warburton cemented victory with a powerful headed finish via his first touch of the ball. The fact that rivals Dagenham and Redbridge were dishing out a 3-0 drubbing to Chester made no difference to the title destiny. Boston's massively superior goal difference always meant that the title would be theirs provided no lapses gave Hayes a way back. And with emphatically determined resolve, and two banks of four players protecting Paul Bastock in goal, United managed to see out the remaining time with no undue troubles. The onus for their more restricted front line foraging fell to leading scorer Daryl Clare. He had one spectacular effort turned aside by keeper Nikki Bull, but his strength to the team cause was in his tireless running and chasing of seemingly lost causes. With leaden legs, he finally gave way to Anthony Elding in the final few minutes. But his job had been done and the Pilgrims went on to receive the rapturous acclaim of their 2,700-strong band of vociferous travelling fans. These fans, and probably thousands of others will tonight have the chance to get another sight of the coveted Conference silverware when the team returns to York Street after spending last night celebrating in the south of England. The York Street gates will be thrown open at 6.30pm for fans to enjoy another chance to salute their heroes. There are also unconfirmed suggestions that a celebration match will be held within a few days, while it is understood that the Borough Council is planning to host a special civic reception also in the near future. But for the time being, memories are still fresh of that all-important match at Hayes where the home side had the first clear sight at goal. But Bastock stooped to comfortably clutch a low drive from Kevin Warner. Boston hit back in positive fashion and skipper Paul Ellender ventured forward and forced a good sprawling save from Bull at the expense of a fourth minute corner. And from Mark Angel's expert flag-kick delivery, Jim Rodwell rose to smack a header against the bar. Bull flapped at an attempted punched clearance. But the ball dropped to WEATHERSTONE and he instantly lashed a left-foot shot high into the net. That was the first cue for celebration euphoria. But these sentiments were tempered somewhat when midfielder Simon Rusk had to limp off on nine minutes after falling victim to a mistimed challenge by Mark Molesley, the legacy of which was a suspected broken bone in his foot. United reshuffled with Angel switching to the right wing, James Gould edging forward from left-back and Andy Lodge filling in at the back. Moments later, and from his revised role, Angel went close to doubling the Boston lead when he spectacularly hooked an overhead kick inches wide following Gould’s cross from the left. Boston's next opportunity arrived in the 22nd minute, but Weatherstone's shot from the edge of the box flew over the bar. In between, Hayes threatened again, but without directly troubling Bastock. First Dean Clark saw a low, bobbling cross-shot drift wide of the far post. And then Richard Jolly blasted off-target after Clark's initial free-kick had been blocked by United's defensive wall. Further Hayes pressure followed later with a Warner header being well held by Bastock and then, on 41 minutes a Warner flag-kick curled dangerously towards the United net but drifted beyond the far post. Then, almost on the stroke of half-time, Steve Daly's looping cross evaded Bastock and Rodwell had to blast the ball away from close to the line after Clark had forced the ball towards the net.
In the closing minutes of the half, Boston had Costello and Mark Clifford booked, while Ian Hodges of Hayes also went into the notebook of referee Steve Brand. The second half was barely 60 seconds old when Costello charged into the area and appeared to be tripped by Peter Holsgrove. The man in black waved aside claims and then took exception to Costello's verbal frustration and hoisted a red card. To try and bolster the defensive side of things, Evans then introduced Ray WARBURTON at the expense of striker Neil Tarrant. Ironically, though, his first contribution - much to the delight of the travelling hoards - was to power home a header from an Angel free-kick to double Boston's advantage. In the 58th minute, fellow centre back Rodwell tried to replicate the feat from an Angel corner, but only managed to head over the home bar. With their one-man deficiency, United surrendered a good slice of possession to Hayes. The home side produced some tidy midfield play, but then continually ran into Boston's defensive resolve with the whole back division of Clifford, Lodge, Warburton and Rodwell showing good awareness with interceptions and tackles. And on the rare occasions Hayes managed to create half chances, Bastock remained in solid form between the sticks, clutching low shots from Jolly and Steve Hale to effectively snuff out any prospect of a home revival. At the other end, Clare was often a solitary figure in trying to occupy three Hayes defenders. But his unstinting running played a huge part in maintaining United's superiority. And in the 77th minute he almost bagged a third, surging clear onto an Ellender pass and whipping a rising drive towards the far top corner only for Bull to excel with a fine tip-away save. There was one further brief scare at the other end with Bastock saving well from a Clark header on 85 minutes. But that brought the cue for Boston's amazing celebrations.
Boston team: 1. Bastock, 2. Clifford, 3. Gould, 4. Ellender, 5. Costello, 6. Rodwell, 7. Rusk (Lodge 9), 8. Tarrant (Warburton 48), 9. Clare (Elding 89), 10. S Weatherstone, 11. Angel, Subs (not used): Cook, Conroy (gk).
STEVE EVANS VIEWS
"To win this league is colossal, it's absolutely frightening. It means so much to so many people. I saw more grown men and women in tears than I had seen before. It was as though there was a mass funeral. But they were tears of joy and it was brilliant to be part of such an emotionally-charged occasion. It was a brilliant victory and a match in which we got off to a great start with Simon Weatherstone's early goal. Conditions weren't easy, but I felt we coped quite well. Peter Costello's sending off could have made things difficult, but we put on Ray Warburton and he immediately came on and scored with his first touch. If that had been a substitution made by Alex Ferguson, people would probably have been raving about it. But I'm just satisfied that it effectively clinched the title for us. Hayes tried to get back at us, but I felt we made it hard for them and in the end deserved the victory which ultimately meant so much to our club. We will savour this achievement for a few days yet, because these sort of successes don't come around too often."
Although he was unable to add to his 25-goal tally in the Conference, Daryl Clare still kept his position as the league's leading scorer. He said:
"It was the proudest day of my life. I don't think that any of the lads would say any different. We have a young squad and there were plenty of butterflies around before the match but we overcame that and went on to record an excellent win. The support was fantastic, as it has been all season. When I came to Boston, it was a bit of a gamble. However, my decision has proved to be the right one. It has been brilliant all the way. I've scored 26 league and cup goals and I am extremely pleased. It will be great to return to the Football League. Hopefully York Street will be packed every week as we can look forward to some huge games, especially against the likes of Lincoln, Hull and Scunthorpe."
This report originally appeared in the Lincolnshire Echo.