Chorley’s dreams of a second successive promotion were shattered in front of an expectant 2,754 crowd as they were beaten 2-0 at home by FC United of Manchester in a scrappy play-off semi-final not without controversy.
In fairness, FC United were good value for their victory, generally playing the more cohesive football and rising to the occasion better than the home side.
The visitors were decisively stronger in midfield and too often the Magpies’ strike pair of Ciaran Kilheeney and Steve Foster lacked the close support needed to stretch the United defence.
Urged on by a vocal 1,000-plus fans packing the Pilling Lane end which they were attacking, the Reds had the better of a fairly sterile first half, although the Magpies might have taken an early lead.
Chris Denham broke through but his attempted square ball across the box to the unmarked Foster was cut out by a defender at full stretch at the expense of a corner.
At the other end, with the pace and trickery of Carlos Roca and Stephen Johnson down the flanks a constant threat, Andy Teague rescued Chorley by deflecting a Matthew Wolfenden drive just past the post.
Proceedings livened up considerably after the interval and within minutes, Kilheeney rattled the United bar with a cracking shot from 12 yards.
Had that effort counted, it could have been a different story. As it was, the ever-dangerous Mike Norton put United ahead on 62 minutes with a quality strike.
Gliding away from defenders he curled a delightful shot beyond Russ Saunders into the far top corner.
The introduction of John Cunliffe brought more composure to Chorley’s approach work and two controversial decisions, perhaps, crucially went against the Magpies.
An incisive move down the left culminated in Andy Russell playing in Foster who appeared to chest down the pass before comfortably beating keeper James Spencer but the celebrations were cut short as a linesman flagged to adjudge the striker guilty of handball.
Russell got in a well-directed header which Spencer held under the bar before in the 79th minute the referee inexplicably refused Chorley a penalty when Denham was flattened by a climbing defender.
It was a game-changing moment.
United immediately raced away and substitute Astley Mulholland, cutting in from the left, held off a challenge before clipping the ball past Saunders..
There was no way back for Chorley after that and FC United deservedly take their chance in the final next Saturday at Bradford Park Avenue’s Horsfall Stadium, where the Yorkshiremen comprehensively defeated Hednesford Town 5-0 in the other semi-final.
Southport enjoyed a 1-0 win over Grimsby Town with Darren Stephenson on target.