Southend United saw off Stevenage 3-1 after extra time in a magnificent League Two play-off semi-final second leg to secure a 4-2 aggregate success and book a Wembley final against Wycombe Wanderers.
Wycombe backed up a 3-2 first-leg success away from home with a 2-1 win at Adams Park, but Roots Hall was a scene of much more tension and drama.
Stevenage took the lead fortuitously after the first half ended goalless.
Dean Parrett was fed on the edge of the area from a short corner, his shot was flying wide but was deflected goalwards by Dean Wells and in by Tom Pett.
Having thrown away automatic promotion on the final day of the regular season, Southend fans may have feared the worst but a spell of intense pressure paid dividends as Ryan Leonard coolly slammed past Stevenage goalkeeper Chris Day.
With the match in the seventh minute of stoppage time, Leonard went down in the box under minimal contact from Parrett, referee Andy Madley pointing to the spot.
However, Southend top scorer Barry Corr buckled under the pressure, his effort from 12 yards clipping the crossbar on its way over.
Tensions were raised into the extra periods, but Phil Brown’s hosts proved to have the staying power as Stephen McLaughlin’s stooping header put them ahead in the tie for the first time before Michael Timlin – sporting 15 stitches and a scrum cap after suffering a sickening head injury in the first leg – curled home a fine goal to cap a thrilling game.
Having raced into a 3-0 lead at Home Park at the weekend, Wycombe again started fast and two first-half goals put them in firm control.
Plymouth goalkeeper Luke McCormick was at fault each time as his flapping under a corner allowed Paul Hayes to neatly flick in the opening goal, before more dithering gave Alfie Meekings space to head home.
John Sheridan’s visitors hit a fine counter-attacking goal through Ryan Brunt, but they were left with too much to do as Wycombe rode out a late surge to advance.
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