BY MARK DOIG
Brendan Kiernan scored an injury-time penalty to send Welling United supporters into ecstasy as they celebrated victory over Chelmsford City to take them into the play-off decider.
They didn’t do things the easy way and lost a two-nil lead before coming good at the end.
They have shown a remarkable resilience all season, especially in the last three months, and once again they refused to lie down when the going got tough.
On Sunday they go to Woking – with the victor joining champions Torquay United in the National League next season.
In a pre-match interview, Chelmsford manager Rod Stringer had mentioned the slight incline on the pitch and looked to take advantage of it in the opening exchanges. His team came out quickly and Dan Wilks was called on to make comfortable saves from Billy Knott’s free-kick and Max Porter’s low long-range shot.
However, Welling then started to have the better of things and Danny Mills sent him away but Nathan McDonald, who had tasted winning the play-offs with Braintree 12 months earlier, was out quickly to thump away.
Mills then got into a good position but headed over from from Bradley Goldberg’s cross before Welling went ahead. Gavin McCallum’s free-kick came back off Anthony Acheampong and into the path of Goldberg – after his first effort was blocked he followed up to poke home.
McDonald saved from Mills before he could only parry a Goldberg shot and a defender had to hack it out for a corner. McCallum delivered and when Thierry Audel’s header came back off the far post it hit the back of McDonald’s legs and back just inside the other post.
Scott Fenwick had a shot saved easily by Wilks after the Welling defence had done well to narrow the shooting but Welling were still the team in control but Jordan Gibbons fired well over.
Against the run of play the Clarets pulled one back one minute before the scheduled end of the first half. Taking full advantage of a contentious free-kick, Knott delivered and Tom Wraight applied the finish.
At the interval Welling were forced to replace the injured Acheampong with Josh Hill, another 2017-18 Braintree play-off winner.
Kiernan had the first chance of the second half from McCallum’s cross but his shot beat McDonald but also the far post. He then shot over after Mills had headed Arnaud Mendy’s centre back across goal.
Gibbons’ cross was headed wide by Mills before Chelmsford started to throw more players forward. Michael Spillane had a header caught by Wilks before Kiernan showed his desire and work-rate with a brilliant last-gasp tackle.
Although Jonny Giles flicked a header wide as Welling were forced to defend deeper, Chelmsford didn’t create a great deal and the Wings seemed to be in control.
Seven minutes remained when a speculative Giles strike caught Wilks out and he could only palm it up for it to come down into the net.
Many teams would have buckled after that but Welling are made of sterner stuff and dominated the remaining time. Mills, under pressure, headed wide from Kiernan’s cross before Hill rose to meet a McCallum free-kick but headed agonisingly the wrong side of the far post.
With seconds remaining of the additional three minutes, Kiernan burst into the box and was caught by Chez Isaac. The referee allowed the Chelmsford players to get away with everything that they could to disturb Kiernan’s thought process and a full two minutes passed before he was allowed to take the spot-kick. His mental strength was in tune with Welling’s over the last three months and although McDonald went the right way, the conversion was too powerful for him to keep out.
Welling United: Wilks, Gibbons, Braham-Barrett, Mendy, Acheampong (Hill 46), Audel, Kiernan, Ijaha, Mills, Goldberg (Bettamer 73), McCallum. Subs not used: Hajizadeh, L’Ghoul, Anau.