Notts County are back in the Football League after substitute goalkeeper Archie Mair came off the bench to save two spot-kicks, while Cedwyn Scott scored the winning penalty, having missed the crucial one against Wrexham a month ago.
It was the perfect end to a traumatic final for County. Having finished on 107 points, they had to come back from behind twice, once in extra-time, before taking the game all the way to penalties. Even there, the drama wasn’t done as John Bostock had the chance to win it but Panenka’d his penalty off the crossbar.
It was a day for the keepers to take the spotlight though as County’s starting goalkeeper Sam Slocombe had a nightmare early on. For some reason, he dribbled the ball out from goal kick and gave away an indirect free-kick early on. Although he saved the resulting effort, his poor start continued as Notts County then gave Chesterfield a penalty.Slocombe was adjudged to have taken out Andrew Dallas after he got his shot off and the striker got back up to pass the ball down the middle and give the Spireites an early lead.
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Chesterfield had scored five of six penalties this season but Dallas hadn’t taken one until the Wembley spotlight shone on him. This was a big moment early on, and Chesterfield took full advantage. Paul Cook had clearly instructed his side to target Notts County’s right channel and time and time again they got in as the favourites were overwhelmed in the early moments. But moving forward County were dangerous.
Sam Austin almost converted from two crosses in succession but couldn’t get his finish right on either occasion while Dallas continued to exploit that huge space on the right of the Magpies defence. Luke Williams can count himself lucky that his side were only one goal down at the break.
Five minutes after half-time, Williams called on the semi-final saviour Jodi Jones to rescue the day. His introduction made a big difference and he almost set up an equaliser after his free-kick was headed just wide by Connell Rawlinson.
They kept on pushing as Cook’s men retreated back into their shell, looking to hold onto the clean sheet that would secure them promotion. But they couldn’t do it. As Notts Count were awarded a free-kick in the 87th minute out wide, John Bostock surprised everybody by firing one towards the near post and Ross Fitzsimmons blundered the ball into his own net.
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Two goalkeeping errors defined this final, but ultimately it wasn’t enough to separate them over 90 minutes. Two elite sides gave it absolutely everything and we headed to extra time. Just two minutes into the added period though, there was another twist. Armando Dobra, who has been so good this season, attacked the County back line and came up with a curling finish, via a deflection, into the top corner.
County had it all to do. Again. Macaulay Langstaff slid his shot just past the post but Notts County came back again thanks to . Fitzsimons punched a cross and it fell to Rodrigues who bounced a volley over the stricken keeper to level the scores again. So much drama. But this is the National League. Perhaps we should expect it by now.
Slocombe was substituted late on for Archie Mair, on loan from Norwich City ahead of penalties. And so we went to the spot. Banks scored for Chesterfield before Langstaff levelled. 1-1. Oldaker stepped up for Chesterfield’s second and Meir dived to his right to save it. Rodrigues put County in front. 2-1. Maguire made it 2-2 before Jones put County 3-2 up.
King stepped up for Chesterfield, but Mair once again went the right way and denied him with an outstretched foot to put Notts County on the brink. Then John Bostock, the man who got the equaliser in normal time, stepped up for the winner but Panenka’d it off the bar.
Quigley had to score for Chesterfield and did to make it 3-3. This time it was Scott who stepped up for the winner, the man who missed against Wrexham and Ben Foster from the spot, who slid the ball home to put Notts County back in the Football League.
Cue jubilant scenes of joy from all in black and white. The club that so deserved promotion through the play-offs, made it happen in the most dramatic circumstances.