Rothrham United 3 PNE 1 (4-2 Agg)
Paul Gallagher’s opener was cancelled out by headed goals from Wes Thomas, Lee Frecklington and Kieran Agard to send Rotherham to Wembley to face Leyton Orient.
Gallagher’s 30 yard free kick opened the scoring on 16 minutes, but first half headers from Thomas and Frecklington gave the Millers the lead before the break and Agard poked home a third mid-way through the second half to end North End’s hopes.
Manager Simon Grayson made four changes to the first leg, going with a 3-4-1-2 formation that saw David Buchanan and Scott Wiseman come in on the flanks, Neil Kilkenny in the midfield and Kevin Davies upfront.
And Davies played a big part in the first chance of the game as from PNE’s first corner, conceded by Ben Pringle, under pressure from Gallagher, saw the North End No.12 put over an outswinger, that came out to John Welsh on the volley who couldn’t quite keep a difficult shot down after Kevin Davies’ knockdown.
However, it was the Lilywhites who broke the deadlock with 16 minutes on the clock. A free kick was awarded for a foul on Garner 40 yards out; Paul Gallagher floated it over everyone into the top right hand corner of Adam Collin’s goal on the bounce.
Within 90 seconds Declan Rudd was required to make a brilliant save to deny Alex Revell a quick response. It was another free kick 30 yards out, but the Millers frontman’s header at point blank range was pushed over by the North End stopper.
But PNE’s custodian was powerless to prevent the equaliser just after the mid-point in the half when yet another free kick was conceded and curled in by Pringle who found Wes Thomas six yards out, the frontman powering past Rudd.
Ten minutes later and the home side went ahead. A cross from the left from Ben Pringle this time found the onrushing Lee Frecklington who headed in off the inside of the left hand post from 12 yards out.
North End almost responded immediately with a great run down the right by Wiseman. The wing back was found by Neil Kilkenny and the Gibraltan put over a cross for Joe Garner running in at the back post, who headed inches over the bar from 15 yards out.
On the stroke of half-time there was a real let off for home goalkeeper Collin almost, who almost threw one in! Skipper John Welsh’s 25 yard effort was spilled by the Rotherham No.1 an inch round the post when it seemed a simple catch and then from Paul Gallagher’s corner Joe Garner flashed a header just wide of the left hand post.
With four second half minutes gone North End were given a let off when a long throw from Kari Arnason came out to Pringle on the edge of the ‘D’, who hit a sweet shot that beat Rudd but came crashing back off the bar and away to safety.
Two minutes later and North End almost had an unlikely hero as David Buchanan dragged a right-footed shot just wide of the left hand post after a good cross from the right by Wiseman.
Chances were coming for the yellows and Neil Kilkenny found Joe Garner at the back post on 54 minutes, but the frontman’s effort flashed just over the bar from ten yards out.
For a Play-Off game it was incredibly open and end-to-end and from a Pringle corner Revell headed onto the roof of the net to show it was not just chances falling to the side who were behind.
On 62 minutes substitute Chris Humphrey got a cross in from the right and found Joe Garner around the penalty spot who had got a yard of space behind Arnason, but his downward header drifted just wide of the right hand post.
The North End fans were the dominant force off the field with the decibel level raised as the game went into the final 25 minutes.
But it was the home side who took a decisive step towards Wembley in the 67th minute. Some good play down the right saw James Tavernier break away down the right and pull the ball back to Kieran Agard on the edge of the six yard box and he slotted in off the inside of the left hand post from six yards out.
With 17 minutes left a huge slice of luck for the home side as Jack King found space mid way inside the Rotherham half and lined up a pile-drive; it took a little deflection that beat the goalkeeper, but came off the inside of the left hand post and away to safety for the Millers.
As the game entered the last ten minutes yet another unlucky situation for North End. This time Joe Garner picked up a loose ball 25 yards out and drover in a shot that beat Collin all ends up, but it hit the right hand post on the inside, rolled along the line and somehow away to safety.
A chance in the final minute gave North End a free kick on the edge of the ‘D’ as the fourth official put up the board for six added minutes. Josh Brownhill took it put could only find the crowd behind Adam Collin’s goal.
In the injury time Stuart Beavon had a shot blocked as North End threw everything and everyone forward in an attempt to get a last ditch goal and then David Buchanan went close, but it was the home side who held on for a place in the Final.
: Collin, Tavernier, Skarz, Smallwood, Arnason, Morgan, Agard (O’Connor, 90), Frecklington (Milsom, 90), Thomas (Vuckic, 87), Revell, Pringle. Subs not used: Shearer, Davis, Rowe.Rotherham United line-up
: Rudd, Wiseman (Humphrey, 53), Laird, Clarke, King, Wright, Welsh (Brownhill, 68), Kilkenny, Gallagher (Beavon, 77), Garner, K Davies. Subs not used: Stuckmann, Keane, Laird, Holmes.PNE line-up
: 11,576 (1,230 away fans)Attendance
: Mr K StroudReferee