Stockport manager Dave Challinor has urged his players to take “one more big step” towards promotion after his side beat Salford on penalties to book a place at Wembley in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final.
County triumphed 2-1 in a dramatic tie that went to extra time to make it 2-2 on aggregate, before goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe saved two spot-kicks as the hosts won 3-1 in the shootout.
A Stockport win against Bradford or Carlisle would seal back-to-back promotions, with Challinor saying: “That game had everything, but nothing surprises me in football.
“It was an occasion full of emotion, and I’m so delighted for the players that we’ve made it to Wembley.
“It’s a great way to win and a horrible way to lose, but we’ve made it and I want the players and everyone involved with the club to go and enjoy next weekend.
“It’s going to be a great occasion – Wembley really is a special place to play football.
“Only a small proportion of footballers get the chance to play there, so this means everything.
“We’ve taken a big, big step today, but we’ve got one more big step to take if we are to achieve our ambition.
“I thought the players kept their nerve really well today.
“It’s not been easy as Salford are a great team, but this is a brilliant achievement for the whole club so it’s about preparing properly for next weekend now.”
It proved to be a rather tense opening 45 minutes at a packed Edgeley Park.
The hosts went closest seconds before the break when captain Paddy Madden thumped a header against the crossbar.
Stockport finally struck a leveller after 68 minutes when Isaac Olaofe headed home Ryan Rydel’s precise cross.
When Stevie Mallin cracked home via a deflection with eight minutes of extra time to go, Salford looked to have won it.
However, Stockport substitute Jack Stretton then sent the tie to penalties and, with the Ammies missing three of their four attempts, boss Neil Wood was understandably devastated.
He said: “It was a really tough game, but credit to Stockport, they put a lot of pressure on us.
“It was relentless at times, and it is difficult to defend against.
“We created enough chances I thought, but maybe we needed a bit more composure in certain situations.
“It’s hugely disappointing of course, but at the end of the day it just wasn’t to be.
“I can’t fault any of the players.
“Every single one of the lads gave it absolutely everything, right up until the dying seconds.
“We’ve practised penalties this last fortnight, but you just can’t prepare for the crowd and the hostile atmosphere that the lads taking the penalties were up against.
“It’s hard to take, but I think as a club we’ve made massive progress again this season.
“This club is still growing so we’ve just got to go again next season.”
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