AFC Darwen 5 Hanley Town 3

AFC DARWEN will be playing North West Counties League Premier Division football next season after beating Hanley Town in a thrilling Division One play-off final at the WEC Anchor Ground.

Eight goals, three penalties, a hat-trick from Ryan Steele, countless goalscoring chances, and the referee having to be replaced all contributed to an action packed 90 minutes, and it was watched by a crowd of more than 840.

The home side were playing their 50th competitive game of the season, with manager Nick Lloyd picking the same starting XI for the fourth match running.

It was Hanley who took the lead just five minutes in from the penalty spot.

Leigh Skellern collided with Darwen keeper Stefan Holden in the box and referee Michael Herzog pointed to the spot and Theo Stair made no mistake for his 44th goal of the season.

Darwen drew level on 18 minutes. A Karl Turner shot was initially well saved by Jackson, but from the resulting Turner corner, defender Luke McKenna powered in a header.

Hanley came close five minutes later as Stair set up Anthony Malbon, whose hooked shot flew past Holden but the wrong side of the upright.

Darwen moved into the lead just after the half hour. Anthony Lynch and Ryan Steele exchanged passes down the middle before Lynch’s trailing leg was caught by a defender as he entered the box. The referee gave a penalty and Steele converted.

Paul Coote then saw a header saved before Lynch had a shot blocked as Darwen went into the break ahead.

Within 60 seconds of the re-start the hosts were 3-1 up.

Conor Gaul cut inside and fired the ball into the far corner.

Hanley responded almost immediately when Mick Morton hit a weak shot that somehow got past Holden.

The second half was only five minutes old when it saw its third goal as the visitors levelled.

Skellern broke the Darwen offside trap and fired home an equaliser.

The game was held up midway through the half after referee Michael Herzog had an accidental collision with Kiel Lonsdale.

Despite several minutes of treatment he could not continue and was replaced by fourth official Anthony Parkinson.

The new man in the middle was immediately in the action as he awarded the third penalty of the afternoon when Darwen striker Steele was pushed by Nick Ward.

Steele picked himself up to put the home side ahead once again.

The visitors were then left with no option but to push forward for a leveller and they were caught on the break in the final minute.

Fittingly it was Steele who crowned the victory as he completed his hat-trick and the win.