Stockport edge dramatic shootout to beat Salford and reach play-off final
Stockport booked their place at Wembley for the Sky Bet League Two play-off final after a dramatic 3-1 penalty shootout win against local rivals Salford.
County triumphed on spot-kicks at Edgeley Park after the semi-final tie ended 2-2 on aggregate after extra time.
Stockport goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe was the late hero as he saved penalties from Adrian Mariappa and Stevie Mallan to send the home fans wild.
The hosts remain on track for back-to-back promotions, while Salford’s bid to seal a fifth promotion in nine seasons is over.
Under summery sunshine at a packed-out stadium, it was unchanged Salford who threatened first.
Captain Ibou Touray flung over a rather hopeful cross for Matt Smith, but the first leg’s match-winner’s header was comfortably saved by Hinchliffe.
Stockport, whose boss Dave Challinor had made four changes, looked a little nervy in the opening stages and Conor McAleny was soon again testing Hinchliffe, this time with a crisp 20-yard drive.
With the Ammies’ Class of ’92 co-owners Paul Scholes, Ryan Giggs and Nicky Butt watching on from the stands, veteran Smith was proving a real handful for the Stockport backline.
He wriggled into space before forcing Hinchliffe into another decent stop from close range.
Finally Stockport began to settle, and they went close on the half-hour mark when skipper Paddy Madden flicked a header narrowly wide from Ryan Rydel’s cross.
The hosts were right back in contention as the half-time interval approached, though Callum Camps ought to have done much better when he blazed wildly over the top from 18 yards out.
There was a dramatic end to the first period when Madden thumped a header against the crossbar as he met Chris Hussey’s corner-kick.
The Ammies should have struck 30 seconds after the restart.
Luke Bolton latched on to McAleny’s throughball and charged through on goal, only to see his low shot diverted away by the outstretched leg of Hinchliffe.
As the tension began to increase a notch once more, Madden volleyed over the top from 25 yards out as Stockport desperately sought a leveller.
Stockport made a triple substitution on the hour mark and they went close again soon after when Isaac Olaofe headed Kyle Knoyle’s cross straight at a grateful Alex Cairns.
Olaofe made no mistake in the 68th minute, however.
His precise header from Rydel’s inch-perfect cross broke the deadlock and evened up this enthralling tie as the majority in attendance went wild.
The atmosphere inside the stadium was electric as Stockport now looked the more likelier side to go on and book their final spot, and they almost grabbed a second in the 88th minute when Madden clipped a cheeky close-range flick inches over the top.
Into extra time then, and Ammies substitute Louie Barry was denied by Hussey’s goalline clearance before Stevie Mallan’s deflected 25-yard strike looked to have won the tie for Salford with just eight minutes left.
However, three minutes later it was level again when sub Jack Stretton nodded home from close range to again send the home fans into a frenzy, and the tie to penalties.