A flash of genius in stoppage time from Lee Phillips spared the Terras from total humiliation at the hands of relegation-bound Ilkeston last night.
Made to look second best all night by a side who have not won away from home this season, they were staring defeat in the face as a truly dreadful game dragged to a weary conclusion in stoppage time.
Then referee Martin Strong of Watchet, who had already given the home side an added four minutes in which to try and save face, over-ruled his assistant in giving a throw-in to the Terras on the right flank.
With Ilkeston’s defence in a state of confusion Steve Tully tossed the ball to Martyn Sullivan, he knocked in a deep cross and from 15 yards Phillips conjured as sweet a right foot volley as you are ever likely to see to beat Ilkeston’s Andy Love all ends up.
There was barely time to re-start before Mr Strong sounded the final whistle and was quickly surrounded by aggrieved Ilkeston players. It wasn’t difficult to understand their frustration.
They played what little passing football there was in a turgid encounter and but for a great save from Jason Matthews and a goal-line clearance by Mark Robinson in the closing stages they would have been home and dry by the time Phillips produced his moment of inspiration.
The Terras started brightly enough with Alex Browne out-jumping the visitors’ defence to head over from Ryan Ashford’s chipped cross and David Laws missed a great opportunity when he failed to get a sixth minute free header on target from six yards.
But as Ilkeston began to find their feet Aaron O’Connor and Leon Kelly contrived to rob one another of a close range chance when Lever nodded a free kick from the wiley Tony Hemmings across the goalmouth. Then when Hemmings split the Terras defence with a clever through ball, Simon Browne stepped in to rob Kelly with a timely tackle.
Phillips mis-kicked completely when the home side made a rare half chance on the half hour and Ilkeston continued to look the more dangerous side with Chris Freestone holding off Ashford’s challenge and blasting across the face of the goal a minute later.
A game littered with mistakes was crying out for a modicum of quality – and Ilkeston’s Kelly came up with the goods a minute before the break.
Slipping past Robinson’s lunge near the halfway line, he raced clear down the left and cut into the area before forcing a diving parry from Matthews. O’Connor crashed the loose ball goalwards but Matthews again saved superbly only for the ball to rebound again to the visitor’s striker who made no mistake with his second chance.
A barren first 15 minutes after the break prompted manager Geoff Butler to replace Laws and Ashford with Leon Green and Marc Whiteman and almost immediately Phillips had a gilt-edged opportunity to level.
For once centre backs Mark Lever and Barry Woolley failed to deal with a long ball from Simon Browne and Phillips nipped past them into the box.
He had only Love to beat, but his attempt to curl his shot low to the keeper’s left was well read and a lack of pace gave the Ilkeston gloveman just enough time to make a sprawling stop.
Whiteman skewed another chance off target and Ilkeston would have put themselves in the comfort zone but for Matthews fingertip save from Kelly after 81 minutes and Robinson’s goal-line clearance from Woolley a minute later.
With the Terras desperation increasing, they launched one last bid to pull something out of the bag. Sullivan saw his first-time shot from Tully’s cross drift over Love’s head and bounce back off the crossbar before Phillips at last gave a fractious home crowd something to smile about.