A goal either side of half time handed Marine a 2-0 defeat to 10-men Bootle, in their last away game before the playoffs.
Manager Neil Young opted for a 4-4-2 formation for his starting 11, with Luke Clark coming in to start alongside Alex Doyle in midfield. Owen Watkinson and Kielen Adams also returned to the side, leading the line.
Attacking-wise, the Mariners began the game quickly, shifting the ball to the flanks with every opportunity.
Bucks’ goalkeeper Theo Roberts denied Neil Kengni and Watkinson in quick succession to deny the visitors taking an early lead.
Marine looked the more dangerous throughout the first half, with only Roberts keeping the scores level.
Kengni and Clark both saw their efforts kept out, as well as Doyle’s strike from the edge of the box clipping the post on its way out.
Bootle’s resilient defending paid off in the 26th minute, as Ben Hodgkinson broke free down the left flank, whipping a cross in for the unmarked Tom Peterson to head in.
Another key moment in the game was to follow shortly after, after Will Bell’s high tackle on Watkinson left the Marine man in a heap, giving referee Zharir Mustafa no choice but to brandish the red card, just on the half-hour mark.
The chances continued to flow for Marine, this time Watkinson had time to shoot from inside the box, but a critical block from Jay McCarten kept the hosts in front.
Much of the same continued in the second half, predictably due to Marine’s numerical advantage, in that the away side dominated much of the ball and Bootle tried to counterattack whenever possible.
As has been the case at times this season, Marine’s greatest source of chances came from crosses, predominantly from set pieces. Dean Winnard had a great chance to equalise but could only direct his header into the arms of Roberts.
Substitute Jack Dunn also had an effort blocked as the game entered the final 10 minutes, resulting in a dramatic goalmouth scramble. There were muted shouts for a penalty, but the referee waved play on, and Bootle cleared.
Handling the ball after his own defender played it back to him, Bootle ‘keeper Roberts conceded an indirect free kick, but Lewis Reilly was unable to beat the defensive wall of Bootle blue.
Deep into second half stoppage time, Bootle doubled their lead, with Hodgkinson once again turning provider.
Hitting Marine on the counter, as had been the game plan throughout the second 45 minutes, Hodgkinson picked out Jack McGowan in the centre, who made no mistake with the finish.
The full-time whistle sounded soon after, confirming a league double over Marine for Bootle.
Marine are still none the wiser as to who they will face in the playoffs on the 26th of April, with it still being mathematically possible to face any of Warrington Rylands, Workington, Leek Town or Runcorn Linnets.
Marine: Passant, Roberts, Barrigan, Clark, Winnard, Devine, Hughes (Reilly), Doyle, Watkinson (Dunn), Adams (Cummins), Kengni