Lucy Waldon rounds up the 2013/14 Conference play-off semi-finals.
The Conference runners-up and third place side will meet in the play-off final this season, as Cambridge and Gateshead beat Halifax and Grimsby respectively. The victors will join Luton Town in the Football League.
It wasn’t plain sailing for Richard Money’s men, who lost the first leg at the Shay by a solitary goal. Lee Gregory made it 31 for the campaign, slotting home from the penalty spot after Josh Coulson was adjudged to have pushed Matty Pearson with only five minutes remaining. However, a Delano Sam-Yorke double in the second leg overturned the deficit as the two sides met at the Abbey. The aggregate score was level after 10 minutes, when Sam-Yorke netted his first, before he added to his tally with minutes of the first half remaining. It’s a third play-off final in six years for Cambridge, who spent the majority of this season in the top two.
In the other fixture, Gateshead ran out resounding winners, thanks to a thumping 3-1 win on home soil. The Heed went ahead in the first leg as well, but Colin Larkin’s early strike was cancelled out by Craig Disley’s header on 24 minutes. It remained a goal each at Blundell Park, with the winner taking all in the North East return. The hosts took the lead when James Marwood’s teasing shot deceived James McKeown in the Grimsby goal, causing him to spill the ball into the back of the net. The visitors were reduced to 10 men when Scott Nielson received his marching orders, but despite this, they still levelled the tie on the day – and on aggregate – with Disley making it two in two. 20 minutes later and Grimsby saw red again: Sam Hatton dismissed for a second bookable offence. Gateshead soon capitalised on their two-man advantage: first Marwood grabbed his second of the game, then JJ O’Donnell made it three, wrapping up the victory in stoppage time. So heartbreak once again for the Mariners, having lost out to eventual winners, Newport, in last season’s semi-final.
The two teams will now battle it out at Wembley on May 18th, with the winners earning their place in League Two.