PROMOTION to National League 3 North eluded Percy Park after the game was snatched from them in the 85th minute.
The runners-up in North 1 East and North 1 West met to decide who would join West Hartlepool and Altringham and Kersall in the national leagues next season, and it was the north west side that showed the early promise, racking up ten points in the first ten minutes.
Going into the game, the two sides’ league records were identical, both having won all but three games and one draw.
Park earned home advantage due to their having scored more bonus points, but it was the visitors who drew first blood inside four minutes when Sam Jennings cut through the Park defence in midfield to score, and the conversion by Adam Knight was made good.
Park came back at Burnage and were awarded a penalty.
With Marcus Rutter warming the bench, kicking duties fell to Ash Smith, who missed with his attempt at goal.
On ten minutes, Knight added to the Burnage total with a penalty, and the visitors were 10-0 up in as many minutes.
Burnage looked the stronger side, and on several occasions stripped Park of possession, although Park hit back on 17 minutes when the ball was spun wide and Ash Smith came into the line to offload to Ali Blair on the left wing to score.
Unfortunately, Ash missed the conversion, which sadly was to be the story of the day.
The Varley Park outfit are known for their ability to score from the catch and drive line-out, and when Park were penalised for offside, the ball was kicked to the corner and from the line-out, the Burnage pack rumbled the ball over the line for a 15-5 lead, with the conversion missed.
Park missed another penalty kick at goal, before Burnage’s right wing, Chris Kornecki, retrieved a misguided clearance and ran back at the Park defence.
His up and under was deftly retrieved as he set off towards the line on a mazy run, linking with Adam Blaney to score.
Neither kicker was on form, and Knight missed with his shot at goal.
Another penalty attempt by Park was again missed, and it looked as though the visitors would go into half time 20-5 up. Burnage had a line-out inside their 22, and thinking it was the last play of the half, kicked the ball out sideways.
To their dismay, referee Dean Lythgoe did not blow for the end of the half, and Park had one more play to stay in touch.
The line-out was won and the ball spun wide. Martin Shaw looked to be in through a gap in the defence, but he opted for a long pass, which was taken by Ash Smith who went over in the corner for the try. Unfortunately, he was again off target, and the visitors led 20-10, looking set for the last promotion spot.
In the second half, Ash Smith kicked a penalty after two minutes, when Burnage were penalised for a dangerous tackle.
Not long into the half, Brett Sylph and Marcus Rutter were thrust into action from the replacement bench and had an instant impact.
With Burnage reduced to 14 men, Park drove them off a scrum in their own 22, and the ball went wide from Martin Shaw for Howard Stock to go over in the corner for 18-20, but the conversion again stayed out.
Although Burnage had dominated play in the first half, Park turned the tables in the second period, and were awarded a kickable penalty on 57 minutes, which Rutter stepped up to take, for a lead of 21-20.
Park maintained the pressure, and on 65 minutes scored wide left, again through Blair.
The conversion would have meant Burnage having to score twice for the victory, but unfortunately the kick was wide.
At 26-20, either the nerves started to get to the home side, or the visitors stepped up their game, but a sustained period of attack by Burnage kept the pressure on Park.
The defence held against wave after wave of attack, but eventually Craig Fidler was sent to the sin bin for collapsing a maul.
Burnage knew they couldn’t kick for goal as they needed a converted try.
The visitors continued their bombardment, and eventually the ball was picked up from a ruck by replacement scrum half Jonny Scholes.
With men out on the left and Park’s defence drifting across, Scholes dummied and darted through a gap to go over for a try on 85 minutes.
The kick by Knight close to the posts was a formality, and as the ball went through the uprights, the whistle went for the end of the game.
Park had come back from 5-20 to lead 26-20, only to have the game snatched away in the final seconds of the match.
Elation had turned to despondency, but not for the visitors. Burnage will be playing next season in National 3 North, and Percy Park will remain in North 1 East.
It was a hard-fought play-off, and both sides played their part in a thoroughly entertaining game.