Npower Leagues One and Two Play-Off Semi Final 2nd legs Round-Up: May 2012



By Adam Higgins
Chief Football Editor



Chris Porter (pictured above) heads in the only goal of the two-legged tie five minutes before the end to break Stevenage's hearts 


On Monday night, a late header from Chris Porter sent Sheffield United into the League One play-off final at Stevenage's expense.

Former Derby County striker Porter, standing in for the jailed Ched Evans and suspended James Beattie, came closest to opening the scoring in a drab first period, only for Boro goalkeeper Chris Day to pull off a fine save.The visitors improved after the break and Luke Freeman and Scott Laird forced home keeper Steve Simonsen into action. But, with time running out, Porter won it with a far post header from Matt Lowton's cross. The Blades, relegated from the second tier last season, will now return to Wembley for the first time since losing in the 2009 Championship play-off final.

Returning to Bramall Lane after the goalless first leg, the hosts almost got off to the perfect start, but Porter's close-range header was spectacularly saved by Day. That early chance was a rare bright spot in an otherwise attritional first period, with both teams seemingly putting more emphasis on defence than opening the scoring. The two lone front men, Porter for the hosts and Patrick Agyemang for the visitors, were too often isolated against resilient defences with both sets of midfielders struggling to find space and creativity in a congested middle. As per the first leg, it was Luke Freeman who looked most likely to force the issue for Boro, but he too cut a remote and frustrated figure by the interval. Both managers will have been grateful for the sound of the half-time whistle, particularly visiting boss Gary Smith, whose side failed to register a single attempt on Simonsen's goal. The second half was a distinct improvement on the first and United went close three times in quick succession. First, Ryan Flynn's shot from inside the area was blocked four yards out, then Porter's cross was fired wide by Lee Williamson at the near post before Flynn lashed a half-volley just wide. This roused Boro, and Freeman linked up well with Scott Laird before embarking on a mazy run that culminated in his side's first shot of the night, easily saved by Simonsen. Stevenage began to sense they could cause an upset and another Freeman run ended with a super save by Simonsen from a well-struck Laird effort before Michael Bostwick fired a free-kick straight at the keeper from thirty yards out. With home fans becoming restless, both Matt Hill and Stephen Quinn went close before Porter settled the contest and United nerves with a towering header at the far post from Lowton's excellent centre. Boro sub Chris Beardsley forced a save from Simonsen with a header from 18 yards but their dream of three successive promotions came to an end with Danny Wilson's side holding out to spark scenes of wild jubilation as home fans rushed on to the pitch at the final whistle. The Blades will face either Huddersfield or MK Dons in the final on Saturday 26th May at Wembley.

Click here to watch match highlights: Sheffield United 1-0 Stevenage

Jordan Rhodes (pictured) continued his rich vein of scoring form for Huddersfield but the Terriers lost on the night although still reach the final 

On Tuesday night, Huddersfield Town booked a League One play-off final date against Sheffield United despite a 2-1 defeat by MK Dons in the second leg of their semi-final.

The Terriers, leading 2-0 from the first leg at Stadium MK played on Saturday, went ahead on the night when Jordan Rhodes finished neatly from a free-kick.Daniel Powell got one back for the Dons with a sharp finish from 18 yards. Substitute Alan Smith scored with a stoppage-time header from a corner, but they could not find a crucial third. Ultimately Rhodes's 40th goal of the season was enough for the Terriers to make a second successive play-off final. Huddersfield, who lost 3-0 to Peterborough in last season's final at Old Trafford, went into the second leg with an advantage from the away leg.

With the two-goal deficit in mind it was perhaps unsurprising that the Dons started on the front foot and Powell nearly got in on goal after a major defensive mix-up between home skipper Peter Clarke and goalkeeper Ian Bennett. Lee Novak fired two warning shots on the visitors' goal in response but was unable to force visiting custodian David Martin into action. After more pressure from the Dons it was Town who took the lead when Novak's challenge from a long free-kick caused chaos in the defence and Rhodes nipped in to finish with unerring accuracy. Far from calming Huddersfield's remaining nerves the goal seemed to cause an increased uncertainty in the Town ranks and Bennett had to be replaced by Alex Smithies after picking up an injury smothering a low Dean Bowditch centre. Smithies's first meaningful action was to pick the ball out of his net. An incisive inside pass by full-back Adam Chicksen found Powell who turned adroitly and fired a low effort into the bottom corner. As the half drew to a close, Karl Robinson felt his Dons should have been awarded a penalty when Charlie MacDonald seemed to be nudged from behind by Sean Morrison when he looked set to convert a Powell cross although referee Scott Mathieson disagreed. After MacDonald poked narrowly wide from Potter's clever slide-rule pass Town almost sealed their place at Wembley when Martin was forced into an excellent double stop, first denying Jack Hunt and then tipping away Novak's ferociously hit follow up. Hunt, who scored the second goal for Huddersfield at Stadium MK, had been largely peripheral up to that point but now began to look to attack at any given opportunity. Conscious of Town's growing dominance Robinson made a double substitution in a last ditch attempt to save the match and with it his side's season, Luke Chadwick and Jabo Ibehre came on for Bowditch and Chicksen respectively. The replacements failed to have the immediate desired impact and it was the Terriers who continued to press, Rhodes flashing narrowly over from the angle. Smithies produced a stunning late double save from Ibehre and Powell but, from the following corner, former Leeds forward Smith, who had entered the field to howls of derision from home fans, crashed in from close range to set up a frantic finale. There was not enough time for the Dons to net again though and Huddersfield clung on to spark a pitch invasion for the second night running in Yorkshire, after the Blades won through to the final on 26th May, by beating Stevenage on Monday.

Click here to watch match highlights: Huddersfield 1-2 MK Dons

Crewe players celebrate as they take a giant step towards the League Two play-off final by taking a two-goal aggregate lead with four minutes to go

A 2-2 draw in the second leg was good enough to send Crewe into the League Two play-off final at Southend United's expense in a tense match at Roots Hall.

Leading 1-0 from the first tie, the Alex doubled their aggregate lead with Ajay Leitch-Smith's fine finish. Former Millwall forward Neil Harris pulled one back following Steve Phillips's fumble before Max Clayton once again extended the visitors' advantage. In a frantic finish, Chris Barker nodded home Ryan Hall's cross but it was not enough to stop Crewe reaching Wembley. It was a true display of the lottery of the play-offs as Southend, who spent a large part of the season top of the league only to narrowly miss out on automatic promotion, were put to the sword by a Crewe side who were 12th when the two teams last met in February. That loss triggered a remarkable undefeated run for the Alex, who have now gone a club-record 18 games without tasting defeat. 

And they took the lead at Roots Hall when Ashley Westwood won a battle with Anthony Grant in the centre of the park before releasing Leitch-Smith down the left. He showed the quickest of feet to cut into the area and send an arching drive beyond Belford. Southend thought they had pulled one back when Freddy Eastwood snaffled the chance after Phillips had parried Hall's strike, but the Coventry loanee had roamed offside. Crewe, exploiting the space as Southend continued to push forward, were handed plenty of chances to put the tie to bed. Belford's mis-kicked clearance fell into Byron Moore's path, but he blazed over with only the keeper to beat and Leitch-Smith, who moments earlier had been harshly booked for diving, hit his effort tamely at the keeper when Lee Bell had chipped him through. Finally the Southend fightback came and Crewe had both posts to thank for preserving their lead as Michael Timlin struck one and then Eastwood the other. The breakthrough arrived moments later, with Phillips failing to collect Chris Barker's cross and substitute Harris sweeping in the loose ball. The joy was short-lived though, as Crewe's highly-fancied youngsters Nick Powell and Clayton combined, with the former finding enough space to fashion a cute finish when under pressure. Barker hit back late on, applying the finish to Hall's centre, but it was not enough to stop Steve Davis's men from continuing their march towards Wembley, where they meet either Cheltenham or Torquay.

Click here to watch match highlights of Torquay 2-2 Crewe 



Cheltenham players (pictured above) celebrate their achievement of reaching the play-off final after the final whistle 


Cheltenham Town booked their place in the League Two play-off final after a 2-1 victory on the night gave them a 4-1 aggregate victory over Torquay.

Leading 2-0 from the first leg, they went further ahead when Jermaine McGlashan stroked home Kaid Mohamed's pass with 15 minutes left at Plainmoor. Taiwo Atieno equalised for the Gulls on the night with six minutes left, heading home Eunan O'Kane's corner. But Marlon Pack's brilliant free-kick from 25 yards out sealed a Wembley final against Crewe on 27 May.

The home side were without top scorer Rene Howe due to a hamstring injury, but made a positive start and Cheltenham were indebted to goalkeeper Scott Brown, who was forced into a series of impressive saves within the opening half hour. He tipped an O'Kane effort over following some deft footwork from the Torquay midfielder and thwarted Ryan Jarvis after he had surged into the area. From the resulting corner, Cheltenham defender Keith Lowe cleared via the post from his own goalmouth and Brian Saah fired the loose ball wide. Brown demonstrated great reflexes to keep out a first-time shot from Mark Ellis, but was beaten by Torquay full-back Kevin Nicholson's sweetly struck free-kick, which rattled off the crossbar. Torquay keeper Robert Olejnik gathered at the second attempt when McGlashan looked to clip home from an acute angle, while O'Kane's 54th minute header looped up off Robins defender Alan Bennett to force Brown into another agile save. As Torquay began to fade, the decisive moment arrived when Mohamed was allowed to ease infield after collecting a pass from Ben Burgess and he played in McGlashan, who poked home via Olejnik's boot and the inside of the far post. Atieno reduced the aggregate arrears when he was left unmarked to glance in a near-post header but Pack ensured his side went to Wembley in style when he found the top corner with a long-range set piece. 

Click here to watch match highlights: Torquay 1-2 Cheltenham


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