League Two review: Final day drama
Radios are pinned to ears, text messages are quickly answered, cheers of joy and cries of sorrow are heard up and down the country, writes Danny Brothers.
It can only be the final day of the season and in League Two there was still everything to play for. A title race, automatic promotion, playoffs and relegation were all to be decided and places changed with the news of one goal here or there on a frantic day of action that summed up this division this season.
It was Lincoln City that were the biggest losers and suffered the ultimate disappointment as Barnet’s great escape meant that the Imps, following a 3-0 home defeat at home to Aldershot, are the ones that drop into the Conference. Eleven games without a win tells its own story and the nightmare run that’s taken Steve Tilson’s men from comfortably safe with around eleven games to go to relegation has been disastrous.
Barnet on the other hand, escaped at the very last. Martin Allen started the job with his seven points to turn the Bees’ season on its head and Giuliano Grazioli has finished the job in fine style. Izale McLeod’s penalty saw off Port Vale at Underhill but the nerves were fizzing around the ground all afternoon because their fans knew that one Vale goal would send them down.
Lincoln, meanwhile, were capitulating and after Danny Hylton had given Aldershot the lead from the spot, Luke Guttridge scored twice and what then mattered more to Imps fans were the events in North London. They prayed for a Vale goal, a mini pitch invasion at Sincil Bank, probably out of desperation more than anything, ensued but then the news came through of the final whistle at Barnet.
City last lost their Football League place in the late eighties but bounced back on that occasion as Colin Murphy led them to the Conference title at the first attempt. But with Football League stalwarts like Grimsby, Cambridge, Wrexham, Luton, York and the like making up the top of the non-league pyramid these days it’s going to be a massive task for Tilson to do the same thing next season.
At the other end of the table, Chesterfield needed just a point from their final game with Gillingham to clinch the title but they got even more than that, a 3-1 victory that not only confirmed their place as the best team in the league but knocked the stuffing out of the Gill’s playoff hopes. Bury had to settle for second place but gave Stevenage plenty of nervous moments in a thrilling encounter at Broadhall Way.
Scott Laird had Stevenage in front with his side needing a win to guarantee a place in the top seven. Steven Schumacher equalised for Bury before Chris Reid put the hosts back in front. A fine header from Nicky Ajose levelled things once again and the Shakers looked like providing a killer blow to the hopes of their opponents when Schumacher struck again. But thanks to Gillingham’s defeat, Stevenage would have confirmed their playoff berth with or with the late equaliser from Ben May with fifteen minutes to go.
So Chesterfield are the Champions, Bury finish second and third place went to Wycombe Wanderers who got the victory they needed at home to Southend to clinch automatic promotion. They were given a scare when former Wanderers player Anthony Grant put Southend in front but hit back through Scott Donnelly, Ben Strevens and Scott Rendell to seal third.
You can be forgiven for feeling sorry for Shrewsbury who had to settle for a playoff place despite beating Oxford 3-0 at the New Meadow. But the story goes back to mid-March between Wycombe and the Shrews with Gareth Ainsworth scoring a controversial equaliser to deny Shrewsbury three points that day. With just one point separating the two teams in the finals standings there’s a sense of real injustice with Shrewsbury fans but they now face the playoffs and yet another big story.
That’s because their opponents are to be Torquay United who stumbled over the line following defeat at Rotherham. Jake Robinson, the Gulls’ striker, is on loan from Shrewsbury and scored twice against his parent club in the league meeting between the sides back in March. Robinson at the time stated that he is with Torquay until after the playoff so now faces the unenviable task of facing his own team mates in the playoff semi-finals!
In the other semi, Accrington, who finished their league campaign with a thirteen game unbeaten run following a 1-1 draw at burton, face Stevenage and that’s set to be another fine tie with both teams playing above their targets all season long.
With all that drama going on, there was a few games with not a lot on them with already safe Macclesfield and Hereford playing out a 1-1 draw and Northampton ending the season in sixteenth with back to back wins following a 2-1 win at Morecambe. Meanwhile, Stockport’s Greg Tansey scored a last minute penalty to end his side’s final league game with a draw at home to Cheltenham. That goal was preceded five minutes earlier by a sit down protest in the centre circle by County fans and the game was delayed while they were escorted off the pitch!
Crewe ended their season on a high an inflicted Bradford’s heaviest defeat of the season by winning 5-1 at Valley Parade. Clayton Donaldson’s twenty yard effort meant that he ended the season as the league’s top scorer, just pipping Bury’s Ryan Lowe to the title.
So much drama, so much excitement, so much emotion on the final day of the season but it doesn’t end there. With two intriguing playoff semi-finals and a life changing final to come, this fascinating division still has a bit to run yet!