Stockport beat Salford and head for League Two playoff final with Carlisle | League Two
Stockport will face Carlisle in the League Two playoff final at Wembley after a day of semi-final drama ended in heartbreak for Salford and Bradford.
County beat Salford 3-1 on penalties at Edgeley Park after the semi-final tie ended 2-2 on aggregate after extra time. The Stockport goalkeeper, Ben Hinchliffe, was the late hero as he saved penalties from Adrian Mariappa and Stevie Mallan to send the home fans wild. It means the hosts remain on track for back-to-back promotions, while Salford’s bid to seal a fifth promotion in nine seasons is over.
In a tense opening 45 minutes, the hosts, trailing 1-0 from the first leg, went closest seconds before the break when captain Paddy Madden thumped a header against the crossbar. Stockport finally levelled the tie on 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, it looked as though Salford, watched by co-owners Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt from the stands, had won it – but Stockport substitute Jack Stretton then sent the tie to penalties.
Manager Dave Challinor urged his players to refocus and take “one more big step” at Wembley. “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. It wasn’t easy as Salford are a great team, but this is a brilliant achievement for the whole club. It’s about preparing properly for next weekend now.”
Ben Barclay, meanwhile, earned Carlisle a thrilling 3-2 aggregate victory over Bradford, but will miss the final against Stockport. The defender, on loan from County, headed United’s third and semi-final clinching goal in the second period of extra time after Mark Hughes’ Bantams threatened to take the game to penalties. The final whistle produced a mass pitch invasion with thousands of jubilant home supporters celebrating victory.
Carlisle trailed 1-0 from the first leg at Valley Parade but levelled the tie when defender Brad Halliday put through his own goal after 21 minutes. That is the way it stayed for the rest of normal time with Bradford offering little in response up front. Callum Guy, a former Bradford loanee, then put Carlisle in the driving seat, scoring his fourth goal of the season in the 98th minute.
But with the majority of a sell out 15,401 crowd dreaming of the club’s first Wembley appearance since 2011, the visitors hit back. Only 29 seconds into the second period of extra time Crystal Palace loanee Scott Banks set-up an opportunity and 37-year-old Matt Derbyshire levelled the game on aggregate.
However, Carlisle found another gear. Owen Moxon’s delivery into the box found Barclay in space and he headed beyond stranded Harry Lewis to ultimately seal victory – his second and final goal before returning to Edgeley Park.