Loanee goalkeeper Lewis Ward’s spell at Aldershot came to the cruellest possible end, as they were eliminated on penalties in their play-off ‘eliminator’ round by Ebbsfleet.
A huge contribution throughout the campaign from the Royals youngster had helped Aldershot claim a Vanarama National League play-off place and ultimately to come so close to progressing – but it’ll be the Fleet who go on to the semi-final.
The 90 minutes at the Recreation Ground ended goalless, thanks in no small part to some heroics from Ward.
After the Royals homegrown stopper had saved first-half efforts from Corey Whitley and Jack Powell, he was faced with the prospect of an Ebbsfleet penalty when Danny Kedwell was brought down in the box. It was Kedwell who stepped up – Ward stayed big and read his effort, keeping out the spot-kick with an outstretched leg.
So, after normal time came to an end, another gruelling 30 minutes ensued. And the Shots managed to get their noses in front with 15 minutes remaining, as Nicke Kabamba glanced in Cheye Alexander’s cross into the top corner.
That was barely the start of the drama. With less than two minutes remaining, Ebbsfleet tied the game up again. Dean Rance delivered, and Dave Winfield arrived on the far side to steer in and take the game to penalties.
In the shoot-out, Ward kept out both Marvin McCoy and Powell – leaving the Shots with two chances to win it from the spot. But Lewis Kinsella hit the post and Fabien Robert saw his shot saved, so the drama continued into sudden death.
Goalie Ward showed true guts to step up to take the seventh kick for Aldershot – he sent counterpart Nathan Ashmore the wrong way, but his effort struck the upright, flashed back across the face of goal, and stayed out. Agonising.
And Rance was tasked with finishing the job for Ebbsfleet, who hadn’t had their noses in front all night… he converted from 12 yards, booking the Kent club a semi-final against Tranmere.
A dramatic but heartbreaking evening for all involved. Commiserations to Lewis, but he can hold his head high.