A spirited fightback was not enough to keep Bamber Bridge's promotion dream alive at Bury last night as they lost 3-2 against FC United.
On a night when the Champions League took centre stage, Brig's season ended in a typically-feisty play-off semi-final battle that proudly flew the flag for UniBond League football.
United, pipped by Bradford Park Avenue in the fight for automatic promotion from the First Division North, started favourites in front of a voracious 'home' crowd at Gigg Lane.
Yet the hosts were nervous in the first quarter, with Brig on top and looking likely to cause an upset.
After dependable defender Adam Tong cut out an early Adam Carden and Jerome Wright raid, Brig took the upper hand, with midfielder Tom Ince soon proving a nuisance.
In the best visitors' attack, Brig top scorer Ryan Salmon's deflected strike hit the woodwork after a snaking Ince run and fine lay-off.
Ince's follow-up from a resultant Alex Porter corner was then gathered by keeper Sam Ashton, while Nicky Platt came close at the other end from a floated free-kick.
Neil Zarac was unlucky with an audacious lob that struck the woodwork again, and on 22 minutes an FC United breakthrough arrived – against the run of play.
Adam CARDEN's one-two with skipper Rory Patterson led to a right-wing raid and a powerful finish to beat advancing keeper Terry McCormick.
United's belief grew, the Carden brothers – Adam and Simon – plus Platt were denied as Brig struggled to clear.
Ince's first touch was poor after a mislaid pass at the other end gave Brig hope, and on 38 minutes a sweeping United counter-attack led to a second home goal.
This time, Simon Carden started the move, putting Platt away, a quick pass then finding Adam Carden before a square ball wrong-footed McCormick and gave PATTERSON an empty net to fire into.
Patterson twice more came close and Stuart Rudd fired wide with an easier finish before the break, Brig just happy to get in only two goals adrift.
Yet Entwistle then sacrificed Ince and Martin Crowder, and replacements Ryan-Zico Black and Mark Edmeads proved to be catalysts for the comeback.
Within six minutes of the restart Brig halved the arrears, a Black free-kick leading to ZARAC bundling in from close range as United struggled to defend.
Ashton denied Zarac in a one-on-one then cut out a deep Porter corner, yet Brig's positive approach led to inevitable gaps and Tong had to be at his best to stop one of many Adam Carden right-wing raids, while Patterson and Rudd again fired wide with good chances.
Salmon came close to converting from a Porter overhead delivery, and from the counter-attack WRIGHT fired in a third from the left of the area on 69 minutes.
Brig battled on, with Salmon inches wide after another neat Porter pass before ZARAC turned and shot home a sublime second strike on 79 minutes.
Patterson hit the crossbar with his next effort, while Black and Tong might have done better as Brig countered, and no one could get on the end of an Edmeads cross that proved to be the final chance of an often fiery but always absorbing clash.
BAMBER BRIDGE: McCormick, Steel, Crowder (Edmeads 46), Williams, Tong, Bowen (Fleming 75), Ince (Black 46), Mahoney, Zarac, Salmon, Porter.
Referee: GM Brittain.
Last Updated: 01 May 2008 10:15 AM