Alfreton Town’s first relegation in 16 years was confirmed in a painful 7-0 defeat at the hands of promotion aspirants Bristol Rovers on Saturday.
With the home side still in with a chance of the title, should Barnet have slipped up against Gateshead, a Conference record crowd of 11,085 crammed into the Memorial Ground, bettering every League Two gate on the day.
It was a little bit different from their experience on April, 24, 1999, when relegation from the Northern Premier League (Division One) was confirmed after a 5-1 reversal at Great Harwood in front of a handful of spectators at The Showground, but for those who remember it was equally galling.
Alfreton’s meteoric rise since then, under the careful guidance of chairman Wayne Bradley, has been well documented and has been rewarded with four seasons at non-league football’s top table, a scenario that would have seemed highly improbable had it been suggested on that day in Lancashire.
Manager Nicky Law opted for a 4-5-1 formation at Bristol with Jake Speight alone up front, and with the hosts a little jittery in the opening 20 minutes that period produced Alfreton’s best opportunities to silence the partisan fans.
Dan Bradley’s lengthy run in the third minute had taken him to the byline before running the ball out, then nine minutes later John Johnston slipped at the vital moment as he took a return pass from Bradley on the edge of the area.
Just before taking the lead, Rovers had stepped up the pressure with Wood having to block a shot from Taylor and Parkes then hitting the woodwork from the ensuing corner.
Heads dropped when Jake Gosling lashed the ball home from 20 yards following a run by Andy Monkhouse, with Rovers doubling their advantage in the 29th minute when Ellis Harrison chested home a Lee Brown cross with Reds’ skipper Luke Graham only able to help the ball into the net. A third goal on the stroke of half-time was the first of four goals from simple close-range headers, Matty Taylor finding the net from the edge of the six-yard box after a stretching run by Chris Lines.
Just three minutes after the interval it was 4-0 to the home side with Taylor heading home a deep Mark McChrystal cross from just three yards. Lee Mansell’s near post header made it five, Monkhouse six from close range before the rout was completed three minutes in to added time when Tom Parkes headed in number seven.
Joe Ironside had the clearest chance for the Reds when he ran on to a pass from Massiah McDonald and forced Rovers keeper Will Puddy in to making a rare contribution to the match. Alfreton’s players all went over to applaud the 97 fans who had made the best of their day out - relegation may have been the reality, but at least those loyal supporters can say they were part of a four-year journey at the apex of the club’s history, topped off by making up the numbers in a record crowd.
Alfreton: Flynn; Wood, Graham, Rowe-Turner, Heaton, Johnston (McDonald 59), Shaw, Bradley, Phillips, Howell, Speight (Ironside 52). Subs not used: Courtney; Thanoj, Hawley. Attendance: 11,085.