EVESHAM United finished their home Southern League Division One South & West campaign with a low-key 2-0 defeat to champions Hereford, whose victory ensured they will finish the season with an unbeaten away record.
However, regardless of the Easter Monday result, the Robins can now look forward to the play-offs having sealed a fifth placed finish.
The job was all but done thanks to Saturday’s 1-1 draw at Bideford in which Adam Mann netted for the visitors, although United boss Paul Collicutt was left to rue three more injuries which have left his squad down to the bare bones ahead of the end of season shoot-out.
Speaking after Saturday’s match, Collicutt said: “Injuries are crippling us at the minute and picking up another three on Saturday doesn’t help matters.
“I haven’t been able to name a settled side since before the turn of the year but, under difficult circumstances, the players have done the club proud and it speaks volumes for the strength in depth we have.
“The togetherness we have has seen us over the line and full credit to the boys for doing that. Despite all the setbacks, we have remained positive and all the hard work has been rewarded with a place in the play-offs.
“The point was a massive one for us because I didn’t want to go into the last week needing to get something.
“I’ve been telling my strikers all season to get shots on target and Manny’s (Adam Mann) goal was a prime example because it lacked a bit of power but still ended up in the back of the net.
“The results went for us which makes a change and we can go to Totton next Saturday relaxed with the job done and under no pressure.”
However, there were more injury woes in North Devon as the returning Bradley Gray lasted only nine minutes after coming on before being forced off with a recurrence of an ankle injury and is out for the rest of the season.
Lewis Binns suffered the same fate, while top scorer Lance Smith – also on his return – finished the game hobbling.
With Joe Turley, Sam Pearson, Elliot Kennedy and Liam Harding already finished for this season, Collicutt’s side will face a stern challenge when they visit one of Salisbury, Taunton Town or Tiverton Town in the semi-finals next midweek.
Ben Watson fired home from inside the box to give the hosts a 19th-minute lead, but Mann levelled on 35 minutes when, after good work by Ashley Williams, he fired a shot from the edge of the box which somehow bobbled its way through the clutches of keeper Joe Moore and into the far corner.
Jordan Bryan missed a great chance to clinch all three points when he fired over when clean through late on, but it mattered not as the Robins booked a second play-off appearance in three seasons.
On Monday, a record Jubilee Stadium crowd of 1,578 watched the Bulls extend their unbeaten away league record which stretches back to August 2015.
Late goals in both halves from Pablo Haysham and leading scorer John Mills sealed maximum points for the visitors, whilst Mann missed a penalty for the Robins in second half stoppage time.
Both sides had little to play for and this made for a dour affair. The opening 45 minutes were pretty even although Bulls striker Mike Symons did hit the side netting from a tight angle and Mike McGrath’s free kick was safely held by Kevin Sawyer.
Mann wasted Evesham’s best chance by firing wide of the target after neat play with Paul Fahy on the left.
In the final action of the first half Hereford broke the stalemate after Rob Purdie had been pushed to the ground by Leroy Odiero and Haysham cleverly put away McGrath’s free kick at the near post.
It was much of the same after half time with defences on top and chances at a premium. Symons should have doubled the visitors’ lead after latching on to Mills’ pass but, after holding off several defenders, his right-foot strike was brilliantly kept out by Sawyer.
Shortly afterwards Mills and Haysham combined well, leading to Mills finding the net from six yards to make it 2-0 with his 35th goal of the season.
There was still time for late drama at the other end when Ryan Green handled Bryan’s cross in the box and was subsequently sent off for a second yellow card.
However, Mann saw his spot-kick easily saved by Martin Horsell who dived to his left before the danger was cleared.
Collicutt reflected: “It was an enjoyable day and the only disappointing thing for me was to lose the game. I felt we did alright and the decision for their first goal was a soft one.
“We switched off during the latter stages of both halves and ultimately paid the price. With nothing riding on the game, my main concern was to get through the 90 minutes with no further injuries.
“I must praise both sets of supporters for a smashing afternoon and credit to everyone behind the scenes at Evesham United for making the occasion run so smoothly.”