Chorley 3 Bradford Park Avenue 2
A sparkling hat-trick by livewire striker Louis Almond edged Chorley to a 15th home win but the Magpies lost out in the National League North title race to Stockport County by a single point.
All they could do was win this match and hope that their arch-rivals slipped up at bottom-of-the-league Nuneaton Borough.
But the Hatters duly completed what was generally regarded as the formality of picking up three points themselves to stay one clear of Chorley.
This match, spoiled by a boisterous wind and driving rain, only sprang to life in the second half as the two sides traded scoring blows before Almond iced the Chorley cake with a late eye-catching winner.
The Magpies were without skipper Andy Teague, Matt Challoner and Josh Wilson and there were times when their usual influence was much missed but in the end Almond’s five-star show made all the difference.
Both teams struggled to cope with the strong wind in a scrappy first half-hour before Bradford took the lead from a penalty in the 36th minute.
The hosts lost possession in midfield and the speedy Lewis Knight was left clear on goal only to be brought down by Matt Urwin racing off his line – a clear penalty.
The keeper escaped with a yellow card and Jake Beesley netted his 20th goal of the campaign from the spot.
Chorley hit back to equalise in the 44th minute.
Neat play down the right led to Marcus Carver rolling an inviting centre across the six-yards’ box and Almond scored off the underside of the bar.
The second half opened with a bang. Bradford broke quickly from defence and Jamie Spencer, cutting in from the right, saw a well-struck low cross-shot brilliantly tipped for a corner by the diving Urwin.
Then at the other end Charlie Andrew athletically flipped over a fierce Marcus Carver effort.
The wind played a part in the Magpies taking the lead after 54 minutes.
A long clearance fell beyond the visitors’ defence and keeper Andrew was deceived by the high bounce of the ball, leaving the prowling Almond to run on and score into the empty net.
But the lead lasted barely a minute. Lewis Knight embarked on a speedy breakaway down the left and squared the ball for Oli Johnson to tap in from close range.
As both sides rang the changes, a share of the spoils looked likely but with two minutes left Almond completed his hat-trick with a cracking finish, loudly acclaimed by home fans in another fine crowd of 1,575.
Chasing a lofted pass down the left channel, Almond let fly with a powerful cross-shot which flew into the net off the far post.
The result left Bradford still in the final play-off place, owing to Telford’s defeat at York, while Chorley’s reward for finishing runners-up is a bye to the play-offs semi-final on Sunday, May 5, when they will be at home to the winners of the Altrincham / Blyth Spartans tie. That extra game could have so easily been unnecessary.
Reflecting ruefully on the title that had slipped away from the long-time league leaders – and recalling the last-minute defeat at Spennymoor on Easter Monday – assistant manager Jon Smith said: ‘It’s just come down to one point.’
CHORLEY: Urwin, Anson, Blakeman, Jordan, Leather (O’Keefe 60), Meppen-Walter, A Newby, Cottrell (Hooper 79), Carver (Tuton 67), Almond, E Newby. Subs (not used): Hanley, Eccles.