Glasshoughton Welfare were unable to crown their encouraging season as they missed out on a Bramall Lane final in the NCE League Cup on Tuesday night.
They were away to Penistone Church in the semi-final and produced a spirited fightback, but were edged out 3-2 by opponents seven places above in the Toolstation NCE first division.
Welfare made a dreadful start as inside the opening 60 seconds keeper Jordan Bradshaw spilled Danny Barlow’s free-kick and Scott Whittington pounced to score.
Injured defender Mike Brearley then lost possession, gifting veteran Duncan Richards with an easy finish.
Andy Horbury worked hard up front for Welfare but in a poor first half showing their only chances fell to Adam Hayton and Nathan Keightley who both clipped efforts over. When Andy Ring burst through to make it 3-0 it appeared over.
However, Glasshoughton were different class in the second half, limiting the home team to only one real chance. They attacked constantly and pulled a goal back on 67 minutes thanks to Conor Glavin’s outstanding free-kick – struck into the top corner from 30 yards.
The comeback was definitely on soon after when Callum Harrison turned in Hayton’s cross.
But in the last couple of minutes the ball bounced agonisingly across the home six-yard area with the Welfare players not reacting to it and then Keightley slipped the ball into the net only to be foiled by an offside flag. Penistone held on to reach the final.
Glasshoughton will likely finish in 12th place in the first division after putting up a good effort, but losing 3-1 to championship-chasing AFC Emley.
Goalkeeper Jordan Bradshaw was outstanding with a first half penalty save and further fine stops in the second period.
In front of an excellent 332 spectators the opening exchanges were even but Welfare took the lead on nine minutes when Lewis Akeister sent Keightley away down the right and his cross-shot bamboozled home keeper Graham McLachlan to nestle in the net.
They almost had a second soon after as Conor Glavin looked certain to score from Horbury’s cross, but the ball drifted away.
The home side drew level on 25 minutes when Jordan Coduri hit a free-kick into the top corner despite a valiant effort by Bradshaw to keep it out.
Back came Welfare and a great Gareth Hunter ball set Horbury ball up but his effort flashed inches wide. Horbury and McLachlan then tangled for the ball on the edge of the home area and the loose ball fell to Glavin who could not capitalise.
Emley had a chance to go in front on 37 minutes when Adam Walsh was harshly judged to have fouled a home player in the area. However, the well hit penalty from Coduri was brilliantly saved by Bradshaw.
Within two minutes of the second half opening Emley took the lead when Walsh slipped attempting to clear and the ball fell to substitute Ash Scully who fired across Bradshaw.
A third goal followed a few minutes later when Bradshaw blocked a point blank header from a corner, but Tom Brennan hammered the ball home.
Welfare were not quite out of it and McLachlan tipped a driven Keightley cross away. Keightley then got in behind only to put his shot wide. Bradshaw kept Welfare in the game with an instinctive save with his feet before palming away a stinging shot. Akeister shot wide for the visitors, but they needed another fine save from Bradshaw to keep out Scully.
Joint manager Darren Holmes said: “We stuck to the game plan first half, keeping our shape very well and moving the ball quickly into sensible areas.
“We dominated the first 20 minutes and if some very strange decisions had gone our way could have gone in at half-time in front.
“The second half, we have seen too often this season where individual errors, missed chances, and the lack of commitment in and around our own penalty area has again resulted in us getting nothing from the game.
“Being more consistent over 90 minutes is the difference between top six and everyone else and cost us a top 10 finish.”