After a record-breaking unbeaten run of 27 games, Aylesbury United have sealed runners-up spot and with it likely promotion but local derbies against Aylesbury FC may have to wait.
The Ducks needed just a point in the last game of the season at Hertford Town to secure second place in the Spartan South Midlands Premier, regardless of what main rivals Oxhey Jets did at home to Hadley.
And things looked to be going to plan when top scorer Stacey Field gave them an early lead while Jets were losing 1-0 at half-time.
Things went sour for Tony Joyce’s men, though, when Hertford burst into life and turned things around to deservedly win 3-1.
Distraught at the final whistle thinking they had wasted months of hard work, the United players trudged off the pitch desperately awaiting news from Oxhey’s game – the Twitter feed from which had not been updated since half-time.
Joyce said the dressing room was at rock bottom afterwards. That was until news filtered through that Wednesday night’s Premier Division Cup final opponents Hadley had held on and despair turned to jubilation.
“We didn’t do it the eas y way did we?” said Joyce, who has done a brilliant job of turning the club around since arriving in 2009.
“We actually saved our worst performance for last.
“We knew we had to get a point so when Hertford came and spoiled the party the dressing room was not a nice place to be afterwards.
“But then news came through Oxhey had lost and ... let’s just say it was a good and long night on Saturday.”
The Ducks have been locked in a season-long battle with the Jets for second place, a race which has intensified recently since increased talk of a likely promotion spot for the runners-up.
For this season only, the FA is promoting a number of runners-up from the Combined Counties League, Eastern Counties League, Essex Senior League, Kent League and the Spartan South Midlands.
This is to fulfil the expansion of the Isthmian League Divisions One North and South from 22 to 24 clubs each.
The teams will be chosen on a points per game basis with United’s ratio currently the best.
However, the Ducks may be run close by teams like Guernsey who have a number of games remaining and could mount a serious challenge should they win most of them.
Joyce said: “If we’d have won then I don’t think there would have been anyone that could have beaten us (on a points per game basis).
“But I can’t be too disappointed. It’s our first defeat in 28 games, it was going to happen sometime and the players have been magnificent.”
“Looking at the situation there’s a lot of talk about guernsey being able to catch us but if, as I believe there is, going to be four or five extra teams going up from the various leagues, I’d like to think we’ve done more than enough to be one of them.
“At the minute we tick all the boxes with regards position, points, ground etc so we’ll see when the FA sit down at the end of May/June how it pans out.”
The likely promotion would be United on the same level of the football pyramid as bitter rivals Aylesbury FC, who finished midtable in the Southern League Division One Central.
However, the mouthwatering prospect of intense local derbies next season may not materialise after Joyce revealed the club may well be placed in the Ryman League equivalent instead.
“I would love to go into the Southern League because we would have a nice few derby matches and the games are a lot closer, there’s less travelling, which is the whole idea at this level really,” Joyce said.
“That would be ideal and you’ve got Royston in the Southern League who would be more suited to the Ryman you’d think, but you have to see who comes down as well and how it all works out so we’ll let the FA decide on that and sometimes there’s room to appeal to move leagues.”