IN the end, it wasn’t meant to be. Spennymoor Town came within a penalty kick of making it to the National League, but having risen from the lower tier of the Northern League in just over a decade, Jason Ainsley’s side will have to wait at little longer to make it to the top rung of the non-league ladder. Even meteoric rises sometimes encounter a blip.

Spennymoor booked their place in today’s final with a shoot-out win over Brackley, but asked to produce penalty heroics for the second time in a week, Ainsley’s players were just found wanting.

They had displayed remarkable powers of recovery to stay on level terms in extra-time, with Glen Taylor pouncing to slam home his 26th league goal of the season within three minutes of Scott Leather heading Chorley into what was just about a deserved lead.

But while they were briefly ahead in the shoot-out after Matthew Gould saved Chorley’s first two spot-kicks, misses from Rob Ramshaw and Andrew Johnson ultimately proved crucial. An entire season’s effort crystallised into a series of shots from 12 yards. A winner had to be decided somehow, but my goodness this was cruel.

“I’ve said to the players in there, ‘You’ve got a right to be disappointed. Cry, be upset, whatever. And then make sure you come back stronger’,” said Ainsley. “The best teams come back stronger after something like this.

“We know what we need to do as a group now, but the overriding emotion is one of great pride at where we are and where we’ve come from. It’s only our second season in the league, so to push as close as we did says an awful lot.

“I’ve gone past being disappointed and upset, I’m just immensely proud of the group of players that are in there. They’re a real together group.

“When Glen got the equaliser straight after they had scored, and then they missed the first two penalties, you’re wondering if it’s going to be your day. It wasn’t to be, but we’ve had an amazing season.

“Yes, we’re disappointed today, and fair play to Chorley, I think they’re a cracking club and they deserve every success. But this is just part of the journey we’re on. It hurts, but we’ll use it to drive us on next season.”

When Spennymoor were reformed in 2005, they were playing Northallerton and North Shields in the second division of the Northern League. Had they won today, they would have spent next season playing against Notts County. So while there was obvious disappointment at missing out after coming so close, a sense of perspective is justified. With plans in place for another major redevelopment of their Brewery Field home this summer, Moors remain one of the North-East’s most upwardly mobile clubs.

They were unable to edge out Chorley at the hosts’ aptly-named Victory Park, with the final witnessing a marked clash of playing styles. Ainsley has based Spennymoor’s rise through the leagues on a neat, passing approach, and despite the stakes being sky-high, the visitors tried to get the ball down whenever possible.

Chorley, with man-mountains at either end of the field, bypassed midfield completely and looked to launch a series of long balls into the Spennymoor box. Scott Harrison and James Curtis dealt with most of them, with the latter proving especially effective in the air, but after a cagey opening in which neither side seemed to want to take too many risks, the hosts gradually began to turn the screw.

Elliot Newby, whose twin brother, Alex, played alongside him in midfield, saw a shot charged down by Jamie Chandler, while Josh Wilson should really have done better when he peeled off his marker to meet Adam Blakeman’s corner towards the end of the first half, only to direct his header well over the crossbar.

There were sighs of relief from the packed away end when Courtney Meppen-Walters’ hooked volley on the stroke of half-time was ruled out for offside, and the interval arrived with Moors struggling to escape from their own defensive third.

The visitors’ best chance of the opening period came to nothing when Ryan Hall sliced a shot wide from the right-hand side of the area, but with Taylor struggling to break free of Chorley’s well-drilled three-man defence, most of Spennymoor’s attacks broke down long before the ball was anywhere near the opposition box.

The second half of normal time was an increasingly nervous and tetchy affair, with Chorley substitute Louis Almond firing an excellent late effort over the crossbar and Marcus Carver failing to find the target in stoppage time when it looked easier to score.

The deadlock was finally broken towards the end of the first half of extra-time, with Leather powering home a header from Blakeman’s corner.

However, Spennymoor are nothing if not resolute, and within three minutes, the play had swung to the opposite end of the field. Mark Anderson’s deflected shot fell kindly for Taylor, and the National League North Player of the Season slammed home a typically-clinical low finish.

That took the game to penalties, and after the first three efforts of the shoot-out were all saved, Ramshaw’s failure to beat Matt Urwin meant the scores were locked at 3-3 after five efforts apiece. Elliot Newby scored, and the game was up when Urwin clawed away Johnson’s strike.

“I’m just really proud of the players, the supporters and everybody concerned with the football club,” said Ainsley. “We’ve put Spennymoor on the national map, not just the local one.”