HALSTEAD Town overcame the odds to return to Step 5 of the football pyramid for the first time in 17 years, writes KEN GILLIARD.

The Humbugs won 2-1 at Buckhurst Hill, to secure victory in their Thurlow Nunn League first division south play-off.

Buckhurst Hill had lost only twice in the league all season, accumulated 27 points more than the visitors and had a 10-1 aggregate advantage from their previous two encounters.

Halstead had a number of absentees due to Covid, weddings and holidays but Chris Harris and Kane Gilbert returned to their starting eleven.

The visitors went ahead in the third minute through Jack Schelvis, who volleyed in after Jordan Blackwell’s corner was flicked on by Calvin Poku.

The hosts had most of the possession but without really threatening keeper Jack Cherry.

And Halstead almost added to their tally on 18 minutes when another Blackwell cross was headed goalbound by Jordan Palmer, but Daniel Blockley touched over for a corner.

Stags' Sully Zudhu curled wide on 23 minutes before getting on the scoresheet minutes later, albeit in bizarre circumstances.

Nick Miller’s clearance struck Zudhu on the back and looping over the stranded Cherry to bring the home crowd to life.

But Halstead showed their resilience as they struck back immediately with Harris playing a fine ball out to Blackwell on the right.

The winger made progress to the by-line and cut the ball back to Poku, who swept the ball home to restore Halstead’s advantage.

Buckhurst Hill had most of the possession for the remainder of the first half, without creating clearcut chances and when they did, they found Cherry in imperious form.

Halstead still offered a threat on the break though and had a great chance to add to their tally when Gilbert and Poku pressured the home defence and both were through on goal, Gilbert beat his colleague to the ball but Blockley was out quickly to smother his poked effort at goal.

Halstead went in at the break ahead and the second half almost opened with another goal for the visitors.

Blackwell got away down the right and his dipping half volley was just beyond the far upright.

That was one of the few times Halstead posed a threat in the second half as Buckhurst Hill went up a gear and controlled the game applying huge pressure on the visitors.

Halstead were indebted to Cherry at times, including Nathan Sollosi effort being turned around at his near post.

There was some profligate finishing by the hosts as well, with Callum Ibe slashing his effort over when he should have done better.

As the game moved towards the final 20 minutes Tyler Dolan hit a thunderous effort for the Stags but Chris Harris put in a superb block, albeit the hosts claimed it hit his hand, but the referee was unmoved.

Those final 20 minutes would have seemed to take an age for the visitors as they soaked up the pressure.

But Halstead defended from the front and whilst the Stags looked dangerous chances were at a premium.

Indeed, Poku had an effort from the edge of the box for the visitors that flew wide but could have sealed the game for Halstead.

Five minutes of additional time were added and Cherry made a dramatic save to deny Griggs from a corner.

The referee finally blew to signal huge celebrations from the travelling support, as Halstead returned to the Essex Senior League after an absence of 34 years.