FC Halifax Town’s Wembley dream is over after they were beaten 2-0 by Cambridge in the second-leg of their play-off semi-final.
Delano Sam-Yorke repeated his brace from the opening weekend of the season to first wipe out Halifax’s lead and then give Cambridge the advantage in a first-half as nightmarish as that opening 45 minutes back in August.
More than 1,000 Town fans made most of the same journey they hoped to be repeating in two weeks’ time, but were given little to shout about as their side slumped out of the play-offs without registering a shot on target.
It was a disappoiting end considering just how far Town have come since their 5-1 defeat here nine months ago, with Town fans probably hoping Cambridge now achieve promotion so they don’t have to return to the Abbey Stadium next season.
One more big performance proved out of reach for the Shaymen, but for them to be fighting for a place at Wembley while the other part-time sides in the league were taking the tops off their sun-tan lotion was a testament to them.
Their season should not be remembered for its final 90 minutes, however disappointing, but for the entire league campaign that preceded it.
Four changes for Cambridge compared to none for Town probably reflected how happy the respective managers were after the first leg.
But the Cambridge fans answered Richard Money’s rallying call to be their 12th man with a white hot reception, with Town up against the atmosphere as much as the home team at kick-off.
Greg Taylor’s early volley only egged on the relentless home supporters as the waves of noise rolled off three sides of the ground.
The volume was then at breaking point when Sam-Yorke could hardly miss after hesitant defending from Danny Lowe and Chris Smith in the Town box, bringing back horrible echoes of the Shaymen’s shaky defending here on the opening weekend.
This was now a huge test of character for the away side, who were hardly given a second to relax in possession as the home side fed off their supporters’ backing, and vice-versa.
United looked a far better team thanks to those four changes, especially with the two bulky presences of Sam-Yorke and Tom Elliott up-front.
Matt Pearson and Adam Smith began to find more space inside the Cambridge half as Town built up a head of steam, culminating in Scott McManus firing wide from Marc Roberts’ long-throw.
Cambridge did their best to ensure the contest was played at break-neck speed by hurridly re-starting after any breaks in play, while the crowd lapped up any errors which crept into the visitors’ play.
A good run and shot by the lively Sam-Yorke kept the atmosphere pepped up, while Gregory’s subdued start at the other end was emphasised with a shot which went out for a throw-in.
There wasn’t too much finesse to either side’s attacking approach, as evidenced by Sam-Yorke’s second as he muscled his way past Chris Smith before calmly slotting past Matt Glennon.
Town looked in need of the sanctuary of the interval, while Cambridge players and supporters probably never wanted the half-time whistle to sound - not that it could be heard over the din sweeping the Abbey Stadium.
Smith continued to be Town’s best outlet with a deep cross to McManus seconds before the break, but only the side-netting was ruffled, despite the Halifax bench prematurely leaping to their feet.
If Cambridge’s task was clear beforehand, so was Town’s now, although the hosts seemed intent to move in for the kill, with Josh Coulson denied by the offside flag and Harrison Dunk’s shot deflected wide.
Town needed to land the next blow before their hosts did, but Halifax had their work cut out just maintaining their two-goal deficit, with Glennon producing a remarkable save from Luke Berry’s close-range header.
As he did on Wednesday, Scott Spencer beefed up Town’s, until then, limited attacking threat, as the visitors produced a sustained spell of pressure there was a sense that the tide was beginning to turn.
For the first time in the game, most of it was being played in the Cambridge half as Town’s corner count crept up, although their shots-on-target column remained frustratingly empty.
It was looking increasingly like something special by Town or a mistake by Cambridge would be needed, but neither appeared likely as the clock ticked all too quickly away.
Matt Glennon made the customary run forward for a last-gasp corner, but as much as Town huffed and puffed, it was the Cambridge fans in just as fine voice come full-time as they had been throughout.
Cambridge: A Smith, K Roberts, Coulson, Miller, Taylor, Donaldson, Champion, Berry (Chambers 80), Dunk (Hughes 70), Sam-Yorke (Cunnington 72), Elliott. Subs not used: Chadwick, Barnes-Homer.
Scorer: Sam-Yorke (12, 38)
Shots on target: 3
Shots off target: 7
Halifax: Glennon, Bolton, Roberts, C Smith (Ainge 46), Lowe (Crowther 80), A Smith, Maynard, Marshall (Spencer 62), Pearson, McManus, Gregory. Subs not used: Senior, Worthington.
Shots on target: 0
Shots off target: 8
Town man of the match: Lois Maynard