FC Halifax Town moved to within one game of an instant return to the Vanarama National League after claiming a sensational penalty shootout victory over Salford City in this enthralling play-off semi-final second leg.
A goalless 90 minutes ensured extra time, in which Town gained the upper hand when substitute Richard Peniket got his second goal of the tie.
The visitors, however, forced penalties courtesy of Michael Nottingham’s stooping header in the second half of extra time but after James Poole, Ritchie Allen and Sam Walker all missed their spot-kicks, Town’s Matty Brown produced an emphatic penalty to secure a Promotion Final clash at home to Chorley next Saturday.
Billy Heath made just the one change from Wednesday night’s engrossing first leg at Moor Lane as Peniket, Town’s goalscorer from that match, was dropped in favour of Dion Charles.
The Shay Chief had called for the Halifax public to be the twelfth man and so it proved as kick off was delayed by fifteen minutes to allow all fans into the ground safely.
And the Shaymen started immensely brightly with the excellent Matty Kosylo, and then Kevin Roberts, producing dangerous crosses from the right within the first 30 seconds. Tom Denton was also seemingly pushed to the ground in the box as the referee had a very early decision to make. Unfortunately for Town, it didn’t go in their favour as play was waved on.
Charles then started to get involved on the left and he did will to shift the ball onto his right foot but his shot flew well wide. Scott Garner then attempted a cheeky flick at the near post but Jay Lynch was always confident it was going wide.
Lynch’s opposite number, Sam Johnson, wasn’t called upon until the 38th minute, but the Vanarama National League North’s April Player of the Month had to be at his best to keep out David Norris’ effort after a Mike Phenix cut-back.
And with the half-time whistle approaching, Town had two glorious chances to take the lead. Johnson went route one with a long kick which somehow found Charles who prodded the ball goalwards but Nottingham cleared off the line.
Charles then produced an eye-catching acrobatic effort which flew narrowly wide as the Shaymen finished the half strongly.
Town then started the second half as they finished the first but it was the other winger who created the opportunities. Kosylo danced and dazzled down the right but his low, crisp drive went wide of the far post with Lynch well beaten.
Kosylo tried his luck moments later but, off balance, he sent his effort comfortably off target. Rattled, the Ammies went straight to the other end and were prevented from scoring by a phenomenal goal-saving tackle from Scott Garner on Phenix who was just about to pull the trigger.
Town then piled on the pressure as Lynch, remarkably, saved a header from point-blank range before Kosylo’s trickery, including a wonderful nutmeg on Stephen O’Halloran, nearly produced the opening goal.
City were still an attacking threat themselves and Fraser Horsfall, perhaps, should have done better with a header from eight yards out after a great cross from Allen. Allen himself then shot over before Norris’ attempt was saved by Johnson.
Charles’ last action – before he was replaced by Peniket – saw him cut onto his right foot and, as The Shay held its breath, shoot inches wide.
But it was Salford who had the final chance of normal time, with Allen meeting a right wing cross only for the midfielder to fire inexplicably wide. Fortunately – for both Town and Allen – the offside flag had been raised.
Extra-time continued in the same vein, with both sides giving it absolutely everything to set up a home tie with Chorley next Saturday. And Town thought it would definitely be them after Peniket reacted superbly to a Tom Denton to flick on to head past Lynch from inside the six-yard box.
Salford reminded Town that they were still in the contest when a free kick nestled into the side-netting before Peniket and Roberts both went close to doubling their advantage.
But the lead didn’t last too long at the start of the second period of extra time as Town’s defence was caught napping from a quick throw, allowing Nottingham to bravely head in the equaliser at the far post.
Unnerved, Heath’s men set out to regain the lead but Lynch was in fine form – firstly denying Peniket’s diving header before, with the last touch of an unbelievable contest, sprawling to his left to keep out Denton’s header as the tie had to be settled by an extraordinary penalty shootout.
Kosylo put Town ahead with the first kick but, shooting towards an intimidating South Stand, Poole saw his attempt saved by Johnson.
And although Peniket’s effort was saved by Lynch, Allen and former Shayman Walker both ballooned their penalties over the bar – in between a confident Jordan Sinnott conversion – to allow Brown, who scored the winning penalty in Halifax’s thrilling shootout triumph in the FA Trophy Quarter Final Replay at Gateshead last season, to be the hero again, as fans and players joyously celebrated together on The Shay turf.
Chorley, who, incredibly, beat Kidderminster Harriers 2-1 on aggregate, now lie in wait in the Promotion Final at The Shay next Saturday – a one game shootout to decide promotion to the National League.
Town: Johnson, Roberts (C), Wilde, Garner, Brown, Hotte, Lynch (Clarke 76), Sinnott, Kosylo, Charles (Peniket 89), Denton
Subs not used: Drench, Moyo, Morgan
Goalscorer: Peniket (96)
Salford: Lynch, Nottingham, O’Halloran, Grand (C), Horsfall, Haughton (Poole 54), Walker, Hine (Allen 59), Hulme, Norris, Phenix (Johnston 91)
Subs not used: Priestley, Barnes
Goalscorer: Nottingham (107)
Town Man of the Match: Matty Kosylo
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