Hitchin’s promotion hopes were crushed in the most soul-sapping way possible as Leamington beat them in the Southern Premier play-off final.

The Canaries led for 78 minutes before disaster struck in the last minute of normal time when they conceded a penalty and had Lewis Rolfe sent off, with Leamington putting away the spot kick.

The Brakes, playing in front of more than 2,000 supporters in what was the largest ever crowd in the Phillips 66 Community Stadium, then hit the winner deep into extra-time against a tiring Hitchin side to clinch promotion to the National League.

Hitchin’s players dropped to the ground come the final whistle as the hosts celebrated, but there were unseemly scenes as some home supporters clashed with the tired Town players on the pitch.

Hitchin’s players and coaching staff had to pull some of their players free as they were surrounded by Brakes fans, before they were able to go and applaud their own travelling band of supporters who had been in fine voice all afternoon.

Hitchin took the lead on 11 minutes when Rolfe’s long free-kick was played across the six-yard box by Dan Webb and Matt Lench scored the opener.

Rob Thompson Brown hammered a shot over the bar as Hitchin were pinned back early in the second half, while Courtney Baker-Richardson also went close.

But in the 89th minute the hosts drew level when Rolfe was shown a second yellow card after bringing down Kurtis Revan, with Thompson-Brown beating Michael Johnson from the spot.

Leamington cranked up the pressure in the final minutes in an attempt to force home the winner and they thought they had it when Jamie Hood headed goalwards in injury time. The defender thought it was in, his team-mates thought it was in and many supporters were already mid-air in celebration when somehow Johnson pulled off an astonishing save to keep the ball out and send the game into extra-time.

But with six minutes to go in the added 30 the home side fired home the winner when Baker-Richardson beat Johnson from 14 yards to break Hitchin’s hearts.

Hitchin Town: Johnson, Wright, Walster (McNamara 118), Dowie, Webb, Rolfe, Lench, Kirkpatrick, Bickerstaff, B Donnelly (Brooks 87), Burns (C Donnelly 80) Subs: Bennett, Smith. Att: 2,102