Altrincham 2 Guiseley 1: Guiseley’s hearts are broken by one-touch Wilkinson

Guiseley's Danny Forrest celebrates his goal with Jake Lawlor.
Guiseley's Danny Forrest celebrates his goal with Jake Lawlor.
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Greg Wilkinson only touched the ball once in the Conference North play off final but it was a touch that broke Guiseley hearts.

The Altrincham substitute had not been on the Moss Lane pitch more than 60 seconds when he scored in the final minute of extra-time to give his side victory.

And it was a goal that sent the Guiseley players – and their promotion hopes – crashing to the ground.

“As an instant cruel moment – when you see the ball rolling into the net – I have never had anything like that,” said Lions manager Mark Bower.

“It was – as a one-off moment – as cruel as it gets, but we have to use that to bounce back.

“We have to remember the remarkable run of form we have been on to get into this position and we have to use the disappointment, the hurt and the pain.

“There are lads in the changing rooms who can’t get their kit off, can’t get in the shower because a whole season’s work has gone in injury-time of extra-time of the last game of the season.

“Everyone gets knocked down but the best ones get up.

“The game looked to be dying and heading for penalties and maybe we switched off.

“There were two minutes to add on and we were encouraging the lads to see it through – unfortunately, we have not managed to do that.”

Damian Reeves hit the bar after just six minutes of the first half but Guiseley – beaten just once in the previous 20 games – finished the opening period of the game strongly with Alex Johnson firing narrowly over from 12 yards and Jake Lawlor having a header cleared off the line by former Lion James Walshaw.

Danny Ellis’s effort early in the second half – from Andy Holdsworth’s free-kick – was well saved by goalkeeper Stuart Coburn. But Altrincham broke the deadlock after 50 minutes when Walshaw was given the chance to lay the ball into the path of James Lawrie and he guided it home from eight yards.

Danny Forrest was thrown into the action and almost made an instant impact with a side-footed effort that went narrowly wide.

And he bagged a deserved equaliser with 21 minutes remaining as he guided the ball into the net after Lawlor had got his head to another delivery from Holdsworth.

Chances were at a premium after that – Potts was denied for Guiseley and Steven Drench saved from Shaun Densmore – and the game went into extra-time.

It was typically cagey, although Kyle Perry’s long-range effort did scrape the top of the Guiseley crossbar on its was over.

Then, with a penalty shoot-out looking inevitable, Drench came out to block Perry only for the ball to land at the feet of Wilkinson and he did the rest.

It was a crushing blow for everyone connected with the club, including the 794 away fans in a crowd of 4,632.

But Bower admitted he had felt worse when his side suffered a fifth successive league defeat on the same ground in October.

“I think that was lower given that we seemed like we didn’t know where we were going,” he said.

“I am proud of the efforts that went in on Saturday and proud of the efforts of the last few months that got us into that position.

“I know we have decent foundation in place to go again next season.

“We were stood on this pitch in October having just been beaten 4-1 and were third bottom in the league.

“To get to where we got to is an achievement and the group of players in the changing room have done remarkably well to get us to this point.

“It’s difficult to know what to say to them. They are on the floor.

“You can only thank them for their efforts, it’s been fantastic.

“We have got some great results over the last few months and have just not managed to see it through.

“It will take some getting over but we have got to take the positives from the season.”

Having missed out on promotion via the play-offs for the fourth year in a row, thoughts have already turned to next season. “We have been looking forward to next season for a while,” said Bower.

“In football, you are always moving on and people will leave the club in the summer. That’s natural.

“We have identified players we would like to bring in to improve us and the work has been going on – and will continue over the next few weeks.

“If you look at the points per game average from October to the end of the season, it would have won us the league.

“Not too much needs changing but we know the areas that do need improving and we will do our best to do that over the summer.”

Guiseley scorer Forrest said of his goal: “Jake (Lawlor) got up really well and headed it down and it might have been going in. I just made sure, but it’s irrelevant really.”

“When we got the goal, I thought we were well in it. I thought we were good value and could have gone on and nicked it really.

“But I am absolutely devastated,” continued the crestfallen former Bradford City and Halifax Town man.

Altrincham: Coburn; Densmore, Havern, Leather, Griffin (Marshall 102); Lawrie, Richman, Moult, Clee; Walshaw (Perry 77), Reeves (Wilkinson 119). Unused substitutes: Doughty, Saunders.

Guiseley: Drench; Holdsworth, Hall, Ellis, Parker; O Johnson (Holsgrove 83), Lawlor, Potts, Rothery; Boyes, A Johnson (Forrest 55) (Meynell 83). Unused substitutes: Harrison, Dickinson.

Referee: J Brooks (Melton Mowbray).