This wasn’t the way it was supposed to end. Given their home form in the latter half of the campaign, Stanley were supposed to blow away Stevenage and finish in a blaze of glory.
Instead, one of their best ever seasons ended with a brace of red cards and recriminations after facing a side seemingly determined to emulate the former Wimbledon’s rise up the pyramid.
Nothing wrong with that ambition, but after nine months of aping their long-ball football, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Stevenage fans had sore necks and were lining the pockets of Hertfordshire chiropractors.
That said, the better team went through over the two legs, even if their approach wins few friends outside of the Lamex Stadium.
Every time one of their players received the ball, it was almost as if they were thinking ‘how far and how high can I kick this thing?’
While that might be their prerogative, the more unappetising aspect of their play was the petty gamesmanship and time wasting prevalent throughout.
Three times in the first half, challenges from Stanley’s players ended with the visitors on the floor for prolonged periods – if they don’t go up, they can certainly apply for roles as extras in the next war epic.
Not that Stanley were complete angels as – red cards aside – each time a member of the opposition hit the floor, a posse of Reds players surrounded referee Russell Booth.
So far as the match itself was concerned, Reds’ boss John Coleman named an unchanged team from the side which performed so meekly and lost 2-0 five days earlier, giving his in-form side going into sudden-death a chance to show how they can really play.
Roared on by a packed Crown Ground, they began sharply with Terry Gornell’s shot deflected for a corner, from which Jimmy Ryan fired wide.
Criticisms aside, it was easy to see why Stevenage had the best defensive record in League Two.
Led by ex-Red Mark Roberts, they put their bodies on the line a number of times whenever Stanley got within range.
Another such intervention denied Ryan before Ian Craney ran 30 yards, only to drag his shot wide of Chris Day’s goal.
Sean Hessey’s well-struck free kick was deflected into Day’s hands as Stanley had the better of a scrappy first half.
Nevertheless, the Reds should have been behind with 42 minutes gone.
Stacy Long, the opening goalscorer at the Lamex Stadium, fashioned a chance 16 yards out but shot wide when it seemed easier to hit the target.
Seven minutes of injury time from the 23 first-half stoppages brought little for the home fans to get excited about as Stanley – perhaps suckered into playing more directly – failed to break their visitors down. They came closest just before the hour when McConville, who spurned a golden chance in the first leg, repeated the trick.
A cross from the right saw him head straight at Day from six yards when a yard either side would have found the net and started to put some doubts into the opposition’s mind while injecting belief into the Reds.
But it wasn’t to be and troublesome striker Darius Charles curled a shot narrowly wide from 18 yards before a niggly game boiled over 21 minutes from time.
Joe Jacobson attempted to block Lawrie Wilson’s clearance but was a fraction late, catching the winger in the process.
The referee was handily placed, immediately showing a red card but then he had his back to the second incident where McConville stupidly got involved in the aftermath, raising his arms in the face of Long.
Ex-Stanley man Roberts caused anger by being one of the first to rush over to the assistant who conferred with the ref and McConville was soon joining Jacobson for an early bath.
Down to nine men it wasmission impossible but battling Stanley continued to press with Day having to tip Phil Edwards’ looping header over
Long blazed over for the visitors, who ensured their place in tomorrow’s play-off final in stoppage time, when Chris Beardsley collected Wilson’s pass and slid the ball into the far corner to make it a double win for Stevenage – and left a bitter taste for Stanley’s first foray into the play-offs.