National League North play-off final: Brackley Town 0 Kidderminster Harriers 2 - Report

Ashley Hemmings scored both goals as Kidderminster Harriers beat Brackley Town to win promotion back to the National League Premier.

Kidderminster v Brackley - match action
Kidderminster v Brackley - match action

The former Wolves and Walsall forward netted in each half as Harriers claimed a ninth consecutive victory to win the National League North play-off final and complete their season’s stunning turnaround.

Russ Penn’s team sat in the bottom half of the table at the start of April before winning their final six matches to qualify for the play-offs.

Sunday’s win at Brackley completed a perfect treble of away knockout wins to send Harriers back to the top flight of non-league for the first time since 2016.

This was also the club’s first promotion since going up to the Football League 23 years ago and must rank among the most unexpected, after three previous play-off failures in the North division.

The most recent of those came 12 months ago when they were bundled out in the first round by Boston, after a season which they spent almost entirely in the top seven and got to the fourth round of the FA Cup.

This camaign has often been one of struggle which has had a barely believable, brilliant finish and a reminder how patience in the boardroom can pay dividends.

Harriers were in control from the moment Hemmings pounced on a defensive error to fire them into a 13th minute lead.

After his second on the hour mark, it was a virtual cruise against hosts who have now lost in the play-off final in three of the last five seasons.

With Harriers on an eight-match winning run and fresh from a stunning 4-1 semi-final win at King’s Lynn, Penn unsurprisingly named an unchanged line-up for the seventh consecutive game.

Harriers had made quick starts in quarter-final and semi-final wins over Alfreton and King’s Lynn respectively.

Kidderminster vs Brackley match action

They should have lead within two minutes here but Amari Morgan-Smith could only push the ball wide after being picked out by Krystian Pearce’s cross from the left.

Brackley found their rhythm after that, Shepherd Murombedzi bringing a sharp save out of Harriers keeper Christian Dibble with a rising drive. From the corner, Dibble was called into action again to deny George Carline low down, with Murombedzi’s follow-up blocked by a sea of bodies.

The hosts were still pushing when Harriers took the lead. Calder was attempting to send the ball back toward the danger zone but succeeded in hitting team-mate Jordan Richards and it fell perfectly for Hemmings, who raced clear. Lewis got something on the finish but was unable to prevent it rolling over the line.

Jordan Richards fired over from a good position for the hosts but it was a rare alarm for Harriers as they rather eased through the remainder of the opening half.

Indeed, it was the visitors who looked more threatening when they did attack. Caleb Richards saw an effort blocked after dancing past two defenders, while Hemmings should have done better with a volley from Shane Byrne’s chipped pass. The attacker, who was in space, would have had time to bring the ball down.

A bigger chance went begging at the start of the second half when Joe Leesley whipped in a cross from the left but Morgan-Smith, six yards out, was unable to get enough on the ball to direct it goalward.

On the hour mark, Hemmings made no mistake to make it two. Racing on to Zak Brown’s flick on and with Glenn Walker attempting to force him wide, he fired a low, left-footed shot beyond Lewis and inside the far post. Replays suggested he may just have been offside but the flag stayed down and Hemmings and his team-mates cared not as they celebrated in front of the travelling supporters.

Brackley could find no answer and Hemmings went close to completing his hat-trick when he curled over from just outside the box.

Inside the final five minutes, the hosts were finally presented with a chance when Dibble misjudged a through pass but when Cosmas Matwasa looked certain to score, Kyle Morrison capped his own brilliant performance with a diving goal-line block.

Teams

Brackley (4-2-3-1): Lewis, Carline, Walker, Culinnane-Liburd (York 74), Calder, Bates, Richards (Armson 64), Matwasa, Murombedzi, Stead, Robinson (Amantchi 64) Subs not used: Rooney, Smart.

Harriers (3-4-1-2): Dibble, Pearce, Morrison, Richards, Foulkes, Byrne, Leesley, Richards, Brown, Hemmings, Morgan-Smith (Knight-Percival 90+1) Subs not used: Lissimore, Bearne, Hall, Palmer (gk).

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