Chelmsford City lost their seventh play-off game in eleven seasons as they were defeated 3-2 at Welling United.
Bradley Goldberg put the hosts ahead on 26 minutes. Theirry Audel’s shot wrong-footed Nathan McDonald to double the Wings’ lead.
Tom Wraight pulled a goal back for the Clarets just before the interval, but City were made to wait until seven minutes before the end to salvage what they thought to be the goal that would take them to extra-time. However, Rod Stringer’s side were left crest-fallen as Brendan Kiernan’s spot-kick snuck over the line in the fourth minute of stoppage time despite McDonald’s best efforts.
City boss Stringer named an unchanged eleven for the second consecutive match as he looked to match Welling’s physicality in both boxes. However, the central midfield pairing of Billy Knott and Max Porter seemed ineffective with the latter struggling to combat the combined attacking and defensive role.
The visitors started brightly with Knott’s freekick curling into the hands of Dan Wilks before Porter sent a tame effort into the Wings shot-stopper’s gloves moments later.
Welling soon settled into the game, however, and had their first chance of note on 17 minutes when Danny Mills headed a Gavin McCallum freekick narrowly over the crossbar.
The hosts continued to undergo a spell of dominance over the Clarets and made no mistake in breaking the deadlock. McCallum’s pin-point deliveries caused havoc in the Chelmsford penalty area and Goldberg took advantage of sloppy defending by poking between McDonald’s legs.
Goldberg almost doubled his and Welling’s tally for the afternoon and he twisted inside and outside against Max Porter. The tricky forward rifled a fierce effort towards McDonald which seemed a comfortable catch for the City goalkeeper, but Michael Spillane was forced into clearing for a corner after the 27-year-old fumbled his catch.
Welling’s continuous pressure soon paid off though as they increased their lead on 32 minutes. After Spillane’s hurried clearance for a corner, the resulting set-piece was cleared only as far as Audel who swivelled on one foot and stabbed a low shot against the post and across the line.
Scott Fenwick tried to give City a foothold in the game when he darted into space, but his shot was tame and saved comfortably by Wilks. The Clarets threatened again when Knott’s drilled cross met Wraight at the far-post, but the winger got his feet in a muddle and could not convert.
But the Clarets pulled a goal back three minutes from the interval when Wraight rose highest to head home a pin-point freekick from Knott.
Momentum was with City and Murphy very nearly levelled the scores late in the half, but his strike was tame and held by Wilks.
Murphy escaped being shown a red card in the dying embers of the half for his late challenge on Jordan Gibbons, a yellow card from referee Scott Jackson was the only punishment.
Welling started the second half brightest and came close to restoring their two-goal lead, although McCallum’s early strike curled round the post.
As Chelmsford began to press for an equaliser, the hosts settled for hitting the Clarets on the counter.
Mills scuppered a great chance to put the game beyond City’s reach on 63 minutes when he connected with a McCallum cross, but the tall striker headed wide despite being found unmarked.
Following three clashes with former Claret Craig Braham-Barrett, City boss Rod Stringer made his final substitution by replacing Scott Fenwick with Jonny Giles.
City’s pressure continued as they sought an equaliser. Michael Spillane glanced a header into Wilks’ hands, Wraight then drove straight at the Welling ‘keeper after substitute Lamar Reynolds held the ball up well inside the area.
Adrian Cascaval’s deep cross was flicked on by Giles on 82 minutes, but it avoided an additional City touch as Wilks was left rooted to his spot.
The pressure soon paid off though. Giles’ long-range effort was initially saved by Wilks but, with the ball flying high into the air, on it’s return it rolled over the line – much to the delight of the large contingency of travelling supporters.
City continued to press for a late winner but, with extra-time looming, it seemed as though all of Chelmsford City’s luck had run out.
With just ten seconds remaining, Kiernan cut-inside into the penalty box and went down under the slightest of contact from substitute Chez Isaac. The Wings midfielder held his nerve and converted from twelve yards in the fifth minute of stoppage time to send Welling within touching distance of The National League and consign Chelmsford City to another season in step two.
Man of the Match: Brendan Kiernan (Welling)