Lucy Waldon rounds up the League Two play-off semi finals.
They may have finished sixth and seventh, respectively, with four points between them, but the League Two play-off final this season will be contested between Bradford City and Northampton Town.
The Bantams were first to register their place, having been Sunday’s early kick-off hopefuls – their game at the Pirelli, home of Burton Albion, commencing at midday. Phil Parkinson’s side had it all to do, going into the second leg behind, having lost on home soil. Despite a single goal’s cushion, the Brewers weren’t short of optimism with Wembley scarves and other merchandise going on sale before Sunday’s tie.
Albion were rampant in the opening half of the first leg, Calvin Zola heading them in front with just over 20 minutes played – no signs of nerves for the side who were contesting their first ever Football League play-off match. Minutes later, the impressive Zola added to his tally for the afternoon, extending Burton’s lead with a curling strike. Before the interval, Bradford’s Nahki Wells made it 23 for the season, converting from the spot after Damien McCrory was penalised for handball. But Burton’s two-goal cushion was soon restored through Robbie Weir. In the closing 15 minutes, the Bantams managed to pull back another, with Garry Thompson’s 25-yard thunderbolt keeping them in the tie.
Sunday’s second leg at the Pirelli was equally as exciting, with three goals coming in 10 second half minutes. Bradford took the lead before the half hour mark, levelling the aggregate score to 3-3. The tricky Nahki Wells was again on target, having capitalised on a defensive error. A high ball wasn’t dealt with by Marcus Holness, allowing the Bermudan to slot past the Albion keeper. The Bantams doubled their lead early in the second period, turning the tide of the tie when James Hanson netted from the edge of the area. Five minutes later, the aggregate score was tied yet again, with Jacques Maghoma scoring from the penalty spot after he was felled by Garry Thompson. But Bradford extended their lead for the afternoon, making the overall score 4-5, when Wells bagged a brace and goal number 25 for the campaign, having been set up by strike partner Hanson. It may have been Bradford’s 63rd game of the campaign, but amazingly they showed no signs of tiredness, an incredible achievement given that they went into this game on the back foot.
In the other fixture, Cheltenham and Northampton battled for their place at Wembley. It was heartache for the second consecutive season for Mark Yates’ Robins, who will again be plying their trade in League Two next season. It took just a solitary goal in both legs for Northampton to book their place in the final.
Sixfields was the venue for the opening leg, where Roy O’Donovan was the hero. The former Coventry man only arrived in January and with a number of goals already under his belt, they don’t come much more important than this one. The goal arrived midway through the first half, after Adebayo Akinfenwa’s brute strength allowed him to play in Chris Hackett, whose cross met O’Donovan for the finish. It was a 12th victory in 13 matches on home soil for Aidy Boothroyd’s side, who went into Sunday’s game on top.
Mark Yates made two changes going into the second leg at Whaddon Road: Darryl Duffy starting up front in place of Byron Harrison, while the lively Sam Deering replaced Kaid Mohamed on the wing. The Robins started brightly, knowing that just one goal would level the scores. With a number of chances wasted early on, they were awarded a penalty in the 15th minute. A real opportunity to go ahead on the night: Marlon Pack’s spot kick was saved by Lee Nicholls – good value for the Man of the Match award. Cheltenham were made to pay for that earlier miss when the Cobblers doubled their lead – Luke Guttridge’s 20-yard strike, a worthy winner. In the second half, both sides had chances, but score remained 1-0 to Northampton (2-0 aggregate).
The Wembley final takes place on Saturday 13th at 1:30pm.