Bedford Town seal promotion at first attempt after win over Waltham Abbey

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Bedford Town ended a thrilling season with promotion after beating Waltham Abbey 2-1 in the Southern League Division One Central play-off final on Monday.

So almost a year to the day since his appointment at the Bedford helm, boss Lee Bircham had taken the club back up to Step 3 at the first attempt.

The season was a roller-coaster ride of emotions for the 47 year-old, who swapped Leighton Town for The Eyrie last May.

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“When I first arrived here, the club was on its knees,” he said.

Celebrations begin for promoted  Bedford Town. Photo by Tom Hall.Celebrations begin for promoted  Bedford Town. Photo by Tom Hall.
Celebrations begin for promoted Bedford Town. Photo by Tom Hall.

“It needed a complete rebuild. The remit going into the campaign was to get as close to the play-offs as we could. All of the noise about us being favourites was coming from elsewhere, not us.

“We made a great start to season but the wheels came off when the weather changed; we lost a few players and managed to bring a few new faces in, but there was a 10-game period where we only won twice and it would have been easy for us to have folded under the pressure.

“It shows the strength of character that we have here because we were able to bounce back and ended the season really strongly, which took a lot of courage and determination from everyone involved.

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“The pressure that we felt going into the play-offs was also immense. With all the noise coming from our neighbours and the threat of being moved to a different League, the club was desperate to go up.”

He added: “Credit to my players because they took it all in their stride. They went into Monday’s game with a quiet confidence and with over 2,000 supporters backing us, we were able to get the job done.

“If you could choose any way to go up, this would be it. The celebrations at the end and the sense of sheer relief will stay with me forever.

“Other than a 20-minute spell at the end of the first half, we were in control as much as you can be in a final like this. It was tense but we got the job done in the end and deserved our victory.

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“I have to admit that I didn’t realise exactly how special this club is when I first took over a year ago, but it soon became apparent what a fantastic football club we have here and I am so proud that I have been able to lead us back to Step 3 at the first attempt.

“There have been all sorts of emotions over the course of the season, we’ve been to the lowest of the lows and the highest of the highs, but we got to where we wanted to be in the end and that is the main thing.

“You only have to look at the final League table to see how close it is; it has been hotly-contested and I put that down to the budgets of each club being very similar. Bar one or two clubs, there is very little in it and that has been reflected in how the season has panned out.”

On Monday a delighted home crowd of 2,052 saw Kyle Connolley put Eagles ahead on 21 minutes as he picked up a defensive clearance and curled the ball into the left side of the net from the right of the D.

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Connolly had missed the semi-final as he had been at the birth of daughter Felicity the night before.

However, just before the break Aaron Eyoma levelled with a half volley as Bedford struggled to properly clear a Waltham corner.

The winner came on 73 minutes as, from the second of two corners, Carl Mensah headed in at the far post.

In midweek Bedford had pipped Ware 2-1 in their semi-final before a home crowd of 1,053 fans.

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Alex Collard gave them a 36th minute lead and Leon Lobjoit made it 2-0 in first half stoppage time.

Kieron Bishop's reply for Ware did not come until the 96th minute by which time it was only a consolation.