League Two Playoffs: Penalties Dominate the Semi-Finals
Earlier today Shrewsbury and Gillingham secured a place in the League Two play-off final at Wembley. The recurring theme of both games was penalties, and over the two matches there were 11 of them taken, nine of which were scored.
Shrewsbury travelled to Gigg Lane, the home of Bury, looking to overturn a 1-0 deficit from the first leg, in which Neil Ashton scored a freak own goal, a pass to goalkeeper Luke Daniels backfiring dramatically.
Daniels would go from zero to hero, saving a Phil Jevons penalty after Ashton again put his side in trouble by bringing down Andy Morell in the box, before Kevin McIntyre scored a dramatic leveller three minutes from the end of normal time.
It was a great hit, screaming into the bottom corner after a poor attempt at a clearance by the Bury back-line. The match was forced into extra time, where Bury were handed the greatest of opportunities just 12 seconds in, when Steven Leslie was sent of for leading in with his elbow.
Bury put the Shrews to the sword, chance after chance fell to star striker Andy Bishop, but again it was Daniel who was the hero, repeatedly denying the desperate attempts by Bury.
Shrewsbury survived, and the game went to the drama of penalties. Luke Daniels name is etched in the history of Shrewsbury Town, after he denied Danny Racchi and Andy Bishop as the Shrews won 4-3.
Later on, the focus fell on Kent, as Gillingham welcomed Rochdale. They got off to the perfect start on 12 minutes, Simeon Jackson latched onto Andy Barcham's low cross and diverted the ball into the Rochdale net.
The Gills looked shaky with their lead however, and when Dale talisman Chris Dagnall feignted past defender John Nutter he smacked the ball into the top right hand corner to tie the game.
Rochdale pushed on, and Gillingham were saved only by the half-time whistle. Mark Stimson must have said something inspirational at half-time, because in the second half the Gills were much better.
It was underlined when Rochdale defender Rory McArdle rashly brought down Nutter in the penalty area, leaving referee Michael Oliver no choice but to award Gillingham a penalty.
Jackson duly bagged his second goal of the game, and took the wind out of Rochdale in the process. Dale huffed and puffed, but there was no stopping Gillingham as they booked a place at Wembley.
On first glance, one could conclude that Gillingham were the better of the two teams that advanced, but that isn't true at all.
Shrewsbury showed great heart to come back from a goal behind, away from home, and to hold out for 30 minutes of extra time with a man down. Gillingham merely capitalized on a couple of defensive errors.
Shrewsbury won't be so kind to Gillingham as Rochdale were, and most of all, Gills fans are no strangers to the ability the Shrews have, after Mark Stimsons' men were on the receiving end of a 7-0 drubbing earlier this season.
I wish Mark Stimson the best of luck, because quite frankly he is going to need every ounce of luck he can get. If I were him, I would be walking around with a four leaf clover whilst kissing the Blarney Stone, and hoping I don't see any black cats.
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