RAMSBOTTOM United clinched a place in the Evo-Stik Premier Division after a thrilling extra time play-off win over Bamber Bridge.
Dominic Smalley’s winner saw the Rams seal their second promotion in three seasons at Bamber Bridge’s newly christened Sir Tom Finney Stadium, in front of more than 1,200 fans.
It was a match the Rams had to win twice as they thought Steve Howson had sealed it late in normal time only for Bamber Bridge to score an injury time penalty to force the extra 30 minutes.
In a game of high drama with plenty of twists and turns, the Rams got off to the perfect start when Lee Gaskell – the division’s leading scorer – sprayed the ball out to Grant Spencer on the right flank and raced in to the area to meet the winger’s cross with a thumping header.
Despite the early setback, the home side came back into game and levelled in the 22nd minute through Greg Johnstone.
Brig were now on top but the Rams weathered the storm.
The second half followed a similar pattern with both sides carving out chances in an enthralling end-to-end encounter.
However, with just three minutes remaining, the Rams thought they had booked their place in the Premier Division when Owen Roberts’ corner fell invitingly for Howson to fire in through a ruck of players from the edge of the box.
Play was then held up after a flare was thrown on to the pitch by the home supporters and the delay proved fatal for the Rams.
With three additional minutes shown, the game was into the fifth minute of added time when Brig were awarded a penalty for handball and Paul Alexander showed nerves of steel to convert.
The Rams were forced to refocus after the devastating blow and a minute before the end of the first half of extra time came the game’s pivotal moment.
Chris Marlow saw his header cleared off the Ramsbottom line and within 15 seconds, the Rams regained the lead for a third time.
The ball was played up field and Robinson threaded a pass through to Smalley who raced clear and cleverly dinked the ball over the Brig keeper.
Moments later Brig were down to 10 men when Matt Lawlor was sent off for his second bookable offence. Smalley could have made the game safe, but Dovey prevented him adding a fourth.
Instead, the Rams were indebted to Fearon who made a wonderful finger tip save to keep out Alex Taylor’s glancing header.
It was a dramatic finale to the season for the Rams – co-managed by Bernard Morley and Anthony Johnson – who had lost their opening four league games and were also deducted three points for fielding an ineligible player.