Bedford Town reach Southern League play-off final with win over Ware

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Leon Lobjoit celebrating scoring a goal for Bedford Town
Leon Lobjoit opens the scoring Image: Tom Hall Photography / Bedford Town FC

Bedford Town have secured their place in the Southern League Central Division One play-off final with a 2-1 victory against Ware on Wednesday night at The Eyrie.

First half goals from captain, Alex Collard and Leon Lobjoit were enough to see the Eagles over the line as they go on to face Waltham Abbey at The Eyrie on Bank Holiday Monday for a place in Step Three.

Abbey eventually won a dramatic semi-final against AFC Dunstable 8-7 on penalties after equalising in controversial fashion in the 100th minute of normal time, with their encounter finishing 3-3 after extra time.

Despite the widespread belief among the more superstitious football fans out there that form, “goes out the window” in crunch matches such as this one, Bedford Town certainly carried their confidence from recent results into this game.

With five wins from their last five and just one goal conceded in that period, the Eagles couldn’t have asked for a better run of games to precede a play-off semi final.

As for Ware, they hadn’t won in their last three, losing to Dunstable and Biggleswade as well as being held to a goalless draw by Aylesbury United.

Nevertheless, recent head-to-head form favoured the Hertfordshire-based side as back in March they came from two down to win 4-2 against Bedford Town at Wodson Park; an outcome the Eagles were keen to steer clear of this time.

In an interview following Saturday’s rather routine win over North Leigh, vice-captain Ryan Blake described Bedford’s playoff situation as a “lottery”.

If that was the case, it became clear in the first-half that Bedford Town were the only team to have bought a ticket.

Captain Collard leads the charge

Just seconds into the game, to enhance an already electric feel inside the Eyrie, Jack Green lunged into a feisty studs-up tackle on Theo Ofori, earning himself a yellow card and setting the tone for a physical affair.

Bedford’s desire continued to shine through in the early stages, with first and second balls won by those in blue and white.

Opportunities went begging, most notably a free header for Blake from a teasing Leon Lobjoit cross, which he could only guide into the hands of Ware’s goalkeeper, Fred Burbidge.

Fortunately, Bedford remained patient and with ten minutes until half-time, a breakthrough arrived.

Alex Collard celebrates a goal in the play off semi final against Ware
Alex Collard opens the scoring Image: Tom Hall Photography

Just metres away from a boisterous swarm of Eagles fans behind the goal, Liam Dulson whipped in a deliciously inviting corner which was met thunderously by the man with the armband, Alex Collard.

The instant the ball hit the string, he wheeled away to celebrate in front of a delirious home end. It was a most definitely a captain’s contribution, and from that point on, the game began to slip further out of Ware’s control.

After an unrelenting torrent of pressure on the Ware goal, Bedford managed to force a way past Burbidge on the stroke of half time in a moment of unerring quality from their talismanic striker, Leon Lobjoit.

Ryan Blake advanced on the right hand side, for what many suspected to be the last attack of the half. He glided past Mitch Hahn before pulling a cross back to the edge of the penalty area.

Dudley shaped up to strike it but didn’t make a convincing connection with the ball, leading it perfectly into the path of Lobjoit who struck an unstoppable shot in to the top right corner.

With consistency being one of the hottest commodities among forwards at any level, Bedford will be overjoyed to have found one such as Lobjoit, with that goal moving him up to ten goals in his last six games.

Ware goal a mere consolation

Demons of a second half Ware rebellion from the away fixture just over a month ago never came to haunt Bedford Town this time around, with touches coming few and far between for the scorer of a brace that day, Jon Clements.

A resilient Bedford defensive performance left the striker frustrated in a second half of very little action for either side.

Bedford Town’s Jeanmal Prosper controlled the tempo from minute one, barely allowing Ware to get on the ball in the midfield which for most of the game they seemed to bypass with aimless long balls to their frontmen.

Had it not been for a gem of a volley from Ware’s Kieron Bishop in the dying moments it would have been the perfect performance from the Eagles, who oozed class on the night.

After a celebratory embrace with the fans following the final whistle, Lee Bircham’s side will now turn their attentions to a Bank Holiday showdown against Waltham Abbey.

Waltham Abbey are the side who Bedford have most recently lost to in the league, after a heart-breaking 98th minute winner from Aaron Eyoma sunk the Eagles in late March.

The Southern League Central Division One play-off final takes place on Bank Holiday Monday (6th May) at The Eyrie with a 3pm kick off time. Tickets will be available to purchase here.