Nobody gave Northampton Town a chance tonight in the League Two play-offs. A 2-0 home defeat in the first leg of their semi-final last week meant they would have to go to Cheltenham Town and score three without reply to have the easiest route through. The Robins had the best defence in the entire Football League, and second only to Liverpool in the entire country. But, in the barren Jonny-Rocks Stadium, they did the impossible and came back to win 3-0 on the night and take their place at Wembley, where they will challenge Exeter City for a place in League One next season.
Northampton Town Set Up Exeter City Meeting After Stunning Comeback in League Two Play-Offs
A Masterclass in Play-Off Football
If you thought Cheltenham’s performance in the first leg of this tie was good, then what Northampton provided in response tonight was something else. Keith Curle got his tactics spot on, his team wanted it more and they got the result that their desire deserved.
Cheltenham just were not at the races as they were last week. They were sluggish, toothless, and even Thursday night’s hero Owen Evans looked far from convincing between the sticks for Michael Duff’s side.
The Cobblers were at it from the off but even when Vadaine Oliver headed in just the 28th goal Cheltenham have conceded this season, many must have thought it was just a blip and they would recover. After all, they were the in-form team coming into the play-offs – the only side in the quartet to have not lost any matches in their previous five.
The nerves probably started jangling for the home-based Robins fans when it became apparent that Northampton were going to maintain their fast start. They couldn’t find the net again before the break, but going into the interval behind was certainly not on their agenda.
There may have been a hint of fortune about the may Callum Morton, on loan from West Bromwich Albion, levelled the tie. The ball was headed against him unknowingly and dropped into the corner beyond the grasp of Evans.
However, they say you can create your own luck and that’s exactly what he did for the second. An uncharacteristic lapse in the Cheltenham defence saw Will Boyle wait for Evans to come and collect. Michael Harriman came steaming in to intercept only for Evans to tip the ball onto the post, but Morton burst beyond his runner to tap into the empty net and complete the unlikeliest of turnarounds.
Exeter See Off Colchester
Exeter were also trailing coming into their second leg. Cohen Bramall’s free-kick had given Colchester a narrow advantage in last week’s opener but the U’s shot themselves in the foot early on here as Aaron Martin levelled the tie on aggregate in the opening ten minutes.
A horror moment from goalkeeper Dean Gerken saw him let Jayden Richardson’s weak effort squirm under him to put the Grecians in front, but Colchester sent the game to extra time when Courtney Senior converted from inside the box.
Both teams, quite rightly, looked dead on their feet as extra time wore on, but with nine minutes to go, Ryan Bowman found a last source of energy and sprinted onto a long ball before slotting it into the far corner beyond Gerken.
The result means Exeter have reached the play-off final in three of the last four seasons now. The two previous games both ended in defeat, so they will be looking to right those wrongs only this time at an empty Wembley Stadium.
The final of the League Two play-offs takes place next Monday, June 29, kicking off at 19:30pm.