GAINSBOROUGH TRINITY are just one game away from the Blue Square Premier, as they prepare for the biggest outing in their history.
Steve Housham’s men, who beat FC Halifax 3-2 on aggregate in the Blue Square Bet North play-off semi-final, will have the luxury of home comforts too when they welcome Nuneaton onto the Northolme for Sunday’s play-off final.
The Blues faced an arduous task at the Shay Stadium in the semi-final second leg on Sunday after letting slip a two-goal lead at home in the reverse fixture, which ended 2-2.
But Shane Clarke’s strike midway through the second period proved enough to take his side through to the final and put Gainsborough on the brink of promotion to the top level of non-league football.
And as the higher placed finishers of the two finalists, Trinity’s Northolme ground will witness the conclusion of this season’s Blue Square Bet North campaign and ultimately decide whether it will be the Blues or Nuneaton joining champions Hyde in the fifth tier of English football next term.
Nuneaton overcame Guiseley 2-1 overall in the other play-off semi-final despite needing an additional 30 minutes of extra time.
But Trinity will fancy their chances against the Warwickshire outfit, a side they completed the double over this season.
And Trinity chief Housham says the stage is perfectly set for his players to make themselves “legends” at the club with another victory over Kevin Wilkin’s side.
He told the Standard: “It is fantastic and it is what we have slept and dreamed about all season.”
“The players are already heroes even if we would have lost to Halifax. But now we have got through they have got a chance to become legends and I’d rather be a legend than a hero.”
“We’ll go next Sunday and give it our best shot. We have rewarded our fans with another game this season but let’s go and win it.”
Cheered on by the Blues’ 400-plus support, Gainsborough rode their luck at times against Halifax once Clarke scored the decisive goal in the 64th minute.
But a tremendous rear guard display marshalled superbly by centre back pairing Luke Waterfall and Andrew Boyce, gave the visitors a platform for success and Halifax could not find an answer to Trinity’s stubborn resolve.
Visiting keeper Jason White played his part with a string of excellent saves to keep the hosts at bay near the end, and the final whistle was greeted with scenes of elation which quickly broke out into a chorus of “we are going up” from the travelling fans.
“We counted the buses as we set off and the players and when we saw them all leaving it did send a tingle down your spine,” added a jubilant Housham.
“They are our 12th man, the noise they created and the support they have given us all season has been fantastic and I can’t thank them enough.”
“I am just glad they have got something to cheer about now. They need to get the drums out for Sunday, sing as loud as they can and enjoy themselves.”
“Roll on next Sunday, it can’t come quick enough. We’re 90 minutes away from the dream, from getting a medal around our neck, a big trophy for the club cabinet and the Conference Premier thereafter.”
“It is there for us and we will give it our best shot.”
The Blues though were forced to wait 10 minutes before booking their passage to the final as congestion amongst the 3,468 crowd assembled in West Yorkshire.
And with honours even at 2-2 from the first leg four days earlier, the opening 15 minutes produced a typically cagey affair although the early signs were that James Dean would prove a real aerial threat up front for the Shaymen.
But it was Trinity who created the first notable chance of the game when Kevin Sandwith played in Clarke down the left and he cut the ball back for the advancing Jonathan Williams, who cleared the crossbar by a matter of inches.
The Shaymen’s Tom Baker went a step closer five minutes before the break rattling White’s crossbar from a free-kick in the edge of Trinity’s penalty area.
Into the second period and a fine defensive block from Dominic Roma was worth a goal at the other end with Halifax’s Lee Gregory bearing down on goal.
Gainsborough were then saved by the foot of the post as Dean’s turn and shot beat White but cannoned to safety minutes before Clarke’s match-winning effort.
It arrived on 64 minutes, Williams’ corner was headed back into the danger zone by Waterfall and Clarke was on hand to prod home past Halifax keeper Simon Eastwood.
Substitute Ryan Williams should have put the game beyond doubt but found the side netting with a little over 10 minutes remaining, while White put Wednesday night’s mishap firmly behind him with excellent saves from Baker and Ryan Toulson.
Halifax laid siege to Trinity’s goal late on, but they could not find a way through and the visitors held firm to go through and set up the clubs most important tie since their formation in 1873.
FC Halifax Town: Eastwood; Toulson, McManus, Ashworth, Hogan, Lowe, Clancy, Baker, Dean, Needham (St Juste 75), Gregory. Subs (not used): Senior; Hannah, Crooks, Garner.
Gainsborough Trinity: White; Roma, Sandwith, Boyce, Clarke, D,Laryea, J. Williams (R. Williams 73), Kendall (Mettam 46), Stamp (Connor 56), Yates. Subs (not used): McMahon, Watts.
Referee: G. Beswick.
Assistants: S. Mather, J. Simpson.
Goal: Clarke 64.