Craig pen 42
UNITED ended their five years back in the Football League with a disappointing 3-0 home to defeat to Wycombe Wanderers, who secured their own dramatic survival with the three points.
Sam Wood scored on five minutes to set the tone and a soft penalty conceded allowed Steven Craig to effectively end the contest on the verge of half-time.
A gloomy final day got worse with Anthony O’Connor dismissed for two yellow cards and then a third from Matt McClure to sum up United’s major problem this season: nowhere near good enough here at Plainmoor.
United manager Chris Hargreaves made just one change from the side that won at Mansfield last weekend, with Jordan Chapell replacing the injured Shaquile Coulthirst. The home bench saw a return for Kevin Nicholson and a terrific occasion for youth-team midfielder Sam Chaney, who was also among the replacements.
Wycombe boss Gareth Ainsworth also made one change after the painful loss to Bristol Rovers left the Chariboys clinging on for survival in League 2. Leon Johnson replaced Max Kretzschmar for this pivotal game.
A bright start from United, wearing the all-white commemorative shirt to celebrate 125 years of the Football League, was soon snuffed out by a sloppy moment at the back and Wycombe pounced.
The ball trundled over to Wood at the far post and he had two bites before hooking a scuffed volley past Martin Rice for the opening goal, and a lifeline for the visitors.
The away end was really rocking in the next minute, as news filtered through that Northampton were losing at home, a set of results that would save Wycombe from the drop.
United, however, had no intention of making their League farewell in meek fashion, as a deep corner from Courtney Cameron was perfect for the newly-crowned Player of the Season, Krystian Pearce, but his header was blocked by the legs of goalkeeper Matt Ingram.
The game should have been virtually over on 22 minutes after a superb volley from Wood cannoned off the post and the rebound was a simple tap-in for Steven Craig, but he somehow screwed the ball wide with Rice on the floor and the goal gaping.
Elliot Benyon had a glorious chance to compound the misery from the next Yellow attack but the impish forward failed to get a touch on the dinked cross by Cameron, who created the opening with a fabulous weaving run down the left.
An equaliser for Northampton silenced the away fans momentarily and it got worse with a second goal for the Cobblers soon after. Wycombe were now praying for a goal from Mansfield at Bristol Rovers, and it duly arrived. A new scenario that would send Rovers down.
On the pitch at Plainmoor, the Chairboys obviously lost concentration from a Baily Cargill cross and were very lucky to stay in front, as the loose ball bobbled just out of reach of the lurking Pearce.
The very same Gull then had a mini-meltdown at the other end, allowing Matt McClure a clear run on goal. Anthony O’Connor came across to cover but when McClure cut inside, a dangling leg from the youngster was enough for referee Craig Pawson to award a penalty.
Steven Craig was the man to make amends for his earlier miss, stepping forward with great confidence to stroke the ball into the bottom right corner and a 2-0 lead at half-time.
A dismal first period from the Gulls prompted two understandable changes, with Chapell and Benyon withdrawn for the fresh legs and enthusiasm of Nathan Craig and Jayden Stockley.
The new men had no time to make an impression before O’Connor was dismissed for a second bookable offence after pulling on the shirt of Steven Craig. Just like the first yellow for the penalty, it was a foul but neither really merited a caution, unless every infringement is now officially a booking.
A tough day for United was spared further pain by Dale Tonge making a last-ditch tackle on Wood after he burst clear on the counter in a bid to seal the victory for Wycombe. Northampton, meanwhile, were 3-1 up and safe, with Bristol Rovers staring at the drop.
The Gulls were already thinking of a summer holiday and a long punt forward from Ingram was allowed to bounce by Pearce and Tonge, leaving McClure the freedom of Plainmoor to cushion a composed lob past the stranded Rice.
Well done Wycombe but really, really poor stuff from United.
In fairness, the response was a decent spell of possession for the Yellows but without ever causing a serious problem to a Wycombe side more concerned with events 100 miles up the M5.
A dazzling run from Cargill raised a smile with 10 minutes left on the clock but Ashley Yeoman’s eventual pass for Stockley was too strong, and the chance for a consolation had gone.
The final act of a turbulent campaign for United was a tasty cross from Cameron headed goalward by Stockley, but Ingram made a comfortable save and that was that.
Well done to Wycombe, and we will see you all next season for the mission to get back in the Football League as quickly as possible.
United (4-4-2): 13 Martin Rice; 2 Dale Tonge, 5 Krystian Pearce, 29 Anthony O’Connor, 30 Baily Cargill; 12 Jordan Chapell (20 Nathan Craig H-T), 7 Lee Mansell (capt), 6 Damon Lathrope, 11 Courtney Cameron; 14 Ashley Yeoman, 26 Elliot Benyon (19 Jayden Stockley H-T). Substitutes (not used): 1 Michael Poke (GK), 3 Kevin Nicholson, 22 Sam Chaney, 23 Danny Stevens, 31 Daniel Sullivan.
Booked: Tonge 13, O’Connor 42
Sent-off: O’Connor 51
Wycombe (4-4-2): 1 Matthew Ingram; 33 Danny Rowe, 5 Anthony Stewart, 6 Leon Johnson, 19 Aaron Pierre; 11 Sam Wood, 4 Josh Scowen, 8 Stuart Lewis, 20 Steven Craig (17 Junior Morais 84); 29 Matt McClure, 10 Matt Bloomfield. Substitutes (not used): 2 Marvin McCoy, 13 Charlie Horlock (GK), 18 Jo Kuffour, 22 Max Kretzschmar, 23 Nick Arnold, 40 Gareth Ainsworth.
Booked: Stewart 8
Referee: Craig Pawson
Attendance: 3,149 (929 away)