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The Vanarama National League play-off final: Solihull Moors look to make history against never-say-die Grimsby Town
Solihull were only founded in 2007 and have yet to play in the Football League, while victory for Grimsby would mark an immediate return to League Two. Watch the match exclusively live on BT Sport.
The last game of the football season on BT Sport sees Solihull Moors face Grimsby Town at the London Stadium on Sunday in the National League play-off final, live on BT Sport 1 HD & Ultimate from 2pm.
Victory for Grimsby would mark an immediate return to the English Football League, vindicating the decision not to sack manager Paul Hurst following relegation last season.
The Mariners have undoubtedly had the more turbulent run to the weekend’s showpiece, needing to negotiate two play-off rounds to get to this point.
They first had to get past Notts County, requiring a 96th-minute equaliser in the quarter-finals last Monday and forcing extra time at Meadow Lane before bagging a 119th-minute winner courtesy of Mani Dieseruvwe.
That win booked them a trip to highly fancied Wrexham, bankrolled by Hollywood stars Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, and what unfolded at the Racecourse Ground was undoubtedly the match of the campaign.
The Welsh side took an early lead through the league's top scorer Paul Mullin, before John McAtee, the older brother of Manchester City teenager James, replied almost immediately in spectacular fashion.
Centre-back Luke Waterfall then turned the tie on its head just after the break, but further goals from Ben Tozer and Mullin edged Paul Parkinson’s men back in front.
Grimsby were certainly not done yet though and incredibly swung the contest back in their favour thanks to Ryan Taylor and Dieseruvwe, with Jordan Davies equalising to force the Lincolnshire outfit into extra time for the second time in the space of five days.
It was Waterfall who stepped up and proved the hero, stooping to head home a monstrously long throw from Jordan Cropper to send the away fans wild as the majority of the crowd fell into stunned silence.
Hurst, who previously got Grimsby up into League Two via the play-offs in 2016 in his first spell in charge, has credited the supporters with helping lift the team following the disappointment of last season, when matches were played behind closed doors due to the Covid-19 pandemic and the team struggled badly.
“The fans are always going to be there,” he said. “It’s their football club. It was strange getting relegated – it just didn’t feel right.
“Did I think we’d be in this position after that? I had hope – of course I did – but some people still don’t think getting into the play-offs was an achievement for this club. I believe it was, and we will prepare the best we can [for the final] and see if we can make it a fairytale ending.”
In stark contrast to their opponents’ long and illustrious 144-year history, Solihull Moors were only founded in 2007 and have spent their entire existence in non-league, gaining promotion to the National League in 2016.
They suffered play-off semi-final heartbreak in 2019, but avenged that at the weekend, coming from a goal down to defeat Chesterfield 3-1 through top marksman Andrew Dallas, Alex Gudger and Callum Rowe.
The result led to a pitch invasion at their Damson Park fortress as the team, led by former AFC Wimbledon boss Neal Ardley, stand on the verge of an extraordinary achievement.
Solihull, who finished the regular season third, come into this game in a rich vein of form having won their last six matches, and the fact that they beat Grimsby in their previous two meetings this term provides yet more grounds for optimism, with 20-goal Dallas and Joe Sbarra, with 18 league goals, providing serious potency in attack.
“This group of boys have got unbelievable spirit,” Ardley said after the win over the Spireites. “We had to dig in – Chesterfield kept asking questions. We defended well - we had to put our bodies on the line - but we’ve done that all season.
“West Ham’s ground is a fantastic stadium. Grimsby have been unbelievable [and] their fans have been magnificent, so it’s going to be a real occasion.”
Can Hurst taste glory in the National League play-offs for the second time or will Ardley right the wrongs of his loss at this stage two years ago with Notts County? The stage is set for an absorbing encounter.