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Analysis: No fond farewell as Telford crash to yet another defeat

If you’re looking for positives out of this heavy defeat for AFC Telford, it’s that they can now, at last, draw a line in the sand and attempt to move forwards.

Lewis Salmon bagged for the Bucks
Lewis Salmon bagged for the Bucks

Against opponents who had already secured safety, Kevin Wilkin’s team couldn’t sustain any meaningful level of performance and slipped out of the National League North rather meekly.

A late consolation goal from Lewis Salmon spoiled a clean sheet for Boston’s 17-year-old substitute goalkeeper Jake Lovelace – but that was really the only occasion when the Bucks showed any genuine desire to spoil the Pilgrims’ end-of-season party, in front of a record crowd at the Jakeman’s Community Stadium.

Wilkin selected an unchanged starting XI from the previous weekend’s creditable draw with Scarborough Athletic. Alas, the consistency of selection didn’t yield a consistent performance, albeit the formation he employed was different.

The Bucks looked rather lethargic in the opening minutes, almost as if ready for the beach, and the hosts looked ready to kick sand in their faces.

Joe Young had to make a save within the first 30 seconds and was preparing to make another barely a minute later when a covering defender deflected Billy Chadwick’s shot.

Wilkin’s side steadied themselves and began to get to grips with Chadwick and strike partner Jake Wright, as well as coming into the game offensively themselves.

In the 11th minute, they almost took a shock lead. From a Luke Rowe free-kick, Nathan Cameron helped the ball on with his head and it dropped for Montel Gibson to loop it towards the goal off his raised knee but was cleared from within the six-yard box to safety.

There was endeavour but little goalmouth action from either side. Kai Williams saw his deflected shot loop to Pilgrims keeper Cameron Gregory, the former Shrewsbury Town player making the catch.

Harry Flowers, captain for the day, headed a dangerous cross out for a corner, but the Bucks responded with some enterprising play. Williams used his pace to good effect and crossed low towards Prince Ekpolo. He pivoted and shot, seeing it blocked, and neither Brad Bood nor Byron Moore was able to test Gregory from the loose ball.

Boston replied through Wright, who drilled an effort at Young, who saved and pounced on to the rebound. Wright was frustrated, but he didn’t have long to wait before he opened the scoring.

In the 40th minute, the Bucks fell behind to a well-constructed but preventable goal. Chadwick was allowed to cross from the right and picked out Wright, who rose to steer a header past Young.

The Bucks proceeded to wobble, and it was only Bood and Young, standing firm at the near post, who denied Finley Thorndike. The midfielder’s slaloming run through the penalty area saw him weave a path through some less-than-decisive challenges, thrilling the home crowd.

The hosts doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage time. Defender Zak Mills’s shot from 20 yards wasn’t powerful, but its trajectory was true, beating Young and dropping into the net.

Resuming with another huge task ahead of them, Wilkin’s side appeared keen to go out on a positive note. Almost straight from kick-off, they went on to the attack, and from Luke Burke’s throw-in, they worked a crossing opportunity for the full-back, who saw Gibson meet his delivery but head the ball off target.

Flowers got a header on target from a Rowe free-kick, albeit one Gregory was able to claim down at his feet, the effort lacking real venom.

The Bucks continued in that vein but were soon to lose their momentum when Gregory and Jamie Allen came into contact inside the penalty area. Allen had tried to hurdle the keeper but accidentally caught him on the side of the head, knocking him unconscious.

A lengthy stoppage followed before he eventually regained consciousness, sat up and then stood before leaving the field, to be replaced by a 17-year-old debutant, Jake Lovelace.

The inexperienced keeper might have been vulnerable had the Bucks shown more ruthlessness, but they showed little appetite to give the teenager any sort of difficult baptism. Ekpolo went close beating the keeper to the ball in his first real test to lift the ball over him from an angle, but the effort was hooked clear off the goal line.

The next goal went to the home side, in the 70th minute, and Chadwick, on loan from Hull City, was the scorer. The Bucks didn’t get close enough to him, and he angled a shot across Young and into the far right-hand corner of his net from the right of the box to really kill the game off.

Will Atkinson then aimed a shot wide when encouraged by the crowd, the end-of-term feel really beginning to take hold. Williams’ direct running earned a corner that the Bucks could do little with to threaten Lovelace.

Wilkin tried to change things up with the introduction of his substitutes, and following an 82nd-minute free-kick, Gibson got on the end of Burke’s delivery to send a header skimming off Lovelace’s crossbar to the keeper’s right.

Sam McLintock, who left the Bucks for the Pilgrims following some off-field indiscretion in September, almost weaved through for a fourth goal, but in the 87th minute, another goal did arrive as Thorndike beat the exposed Young to beat, he reversed a low shot back across the keeper and into his bottom right-hand corner.

The outcome had long since been in doubt, but in the first of some four minutes of added time, the Bucks did find the target. Substitute Salmon denied Lovelace a clean sheet when his strong run into the penalty area and low, hard shot beat the young keeper at his near post.

Minutes later, the sands in the Bucks’ relegation hourglass had finally emptied, and a painful season was over.

The Bucks still aren’t entirely sure of their future direction, as results elsewhere also sent down Kettering Town. With three teams relegated who would seem a natural fit in the Southern Premier Central, one of them may be unlucky, being sent into the Northern Premier League instead.

Some uncertainty remains, but Wilkin can start to move forward with the process of restructuring his squad ahead of an assault on Step 3 next season; whereabouts in Step 3 could be out of their hands.

Referee: Callum Walchester.

Assistants: Paul Burnham, Mark Chalkley.

Attendance: 2,451 (68 from Telford).

Telford: Young, Burke, Bood (Livingstone 79), Flowers, Cameron, Rowe (Thompson 68), Ekpolo, Moore, Williams (Salmon 79), Allen, Gibson.

Subs not used: Piggott, Daniels.

Scorer: Salmon (90+1)

Cautioned: Moore.

Boston United: Gregory (Lovelace 59), Ferguson, Mills. Shiels, Pollock (Cummings 78), Atkinson, Platt, McLintock, Thorndike, Wright (Burrow 73), Chadwick.

Subs not used: Mitford, Solanke.

Cautioned: Thorndike, Wright.

Scorers: Wright (40), Mills (45), Chadwick (70), Thorndike (87).

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