LOUTH Town suffered cup heartache as they were knocked out of the Wilkinson Sword Trophy semi-final with a narrow 3-2 defeat to Shirebrook Town at Park Avenue.
After finding themselves 2-0 down after a poor first half, Danny Kilmore pulled one back with his second in as many games before the visitors made it 3-1 with a swift break.
Skipper Carl Martin added another late on as Town pushed again but ultimately missed out on a dream local final against old foes Grimsby Borough.
On a chilly Tuesday night in Lincolnshire, Town began in the worst possible fashion when a corner cleared fell to Joe Meehan who connected with a volley which flew through a crowded box and past Craig Wherry.
The Mansfield-based team, who sit four points behind the White Wolves in the NCEL Division One, were doing all the running in the opening stages.
Though Town almost bagged an equaliser when Dan Pawson was put through by Jamie Coulson, but the angle was against him and the midfielder dragged his shot wide.
The rest of the opening exchanges saw little quality, with a number of tough tackles and sloppy play.
But a moment of brilliance on 23 minutes saw Shirebrook double their lead. Liam Pride latched onto a loose ball 35 yards from goal before spectacularly curling into the top corner, sparking wild celebrations from the visitors’ management.
It was one of the finest goals seen at Park Avenue in a long time and gave Craig Wherry no chance between the sticks.
The goal seemed to wake Louth up who began to put pressure on the away defence. But a combination of resilient defending and poor finishing meant Town rarely looked dangerous.
A goalline scramble resulted in a weak shot by Coulson, one of Louth’s better players in the opening half.
In truth the first 45 minutes were an ugly affair, neither team played particularly good football and the challenges were flying in.
Walden’s men started the second half much better. The passing was slicker, movement was sharper and they looked a more intelligent side.
Both Coulson and Matt Kennedy had chances to get the hosts back into the game.
First Coulson’s free header was hit into the ground and Kennedy, who had a quiet first half, dribbled past a couple of Shirebrook defenders on the byline before firing straight at the keeper.
Shirebrook were looking dangerous on the break and when Topliss was set free and rounded the keeper he smashed his shot at the open goal horribly wide. It was a golden opportunity to open up a 3-0 lead and put the game to bed.
And Danny Kilmore punished Topliss’ miss when he pounding on a cleared corner and hit a powerful drive from the edge of the box which rocketed in off the crossbar.
Riding the wave of momentum, the home side continued to press for an equaliser.
Phil Winter had a free header from five yards which flew straight at the goalkeeper before Coulson’s volley was well blocked.
A bad tempered affair spilled over on 75 minutes after a challenge from Topliss on Town’s Danny Stevens. There was pushing and shoving from both players and both were booked.
Louth were now bossing the play but always looked open to the Shirebrook counter attack.
On 82 minutes that was exactly what happened. Jackson’s through ball was met by Topliss who raced in behind, he looked to have overrun it but the ball spilled to Mitchell Slowson who lashed home to make it 3-1.
But Paul Walden’s players rarely give up a lost cause, and continued to push for a goal.
Stevens forced an excellent save by ‘keeper White in the visitors’ goal from a bending free-kick on 88 minutes. From the resulting corner Kilmore flicked on at the near post for skipper Martin who prodded over the line to make it 3-2.
Louth kept up the pressure into added time and forced some more scrambles in the goalmouth, but the final whistle came and Shirebook celebrated reaching the final.
It was the second time in as many years that Town had missed out when down to the last four.
Match sponsors JHA Winter and Sons Ltd of Sutton on Sea and matchball sponsors Materialistic Interiors of Louth had enjoyed a pulsating second half in particular.
Shirebrook will go on to face Grimsby Borough in a two-legged final while Louth must turn their attentions back to the league season.
They visit ninth placed Worsbrough Bridge Athletic on Saturday, with a 3pm kick off in Barnsley.