Southend have been promoted to League 1 after beating Wycombe Wanderers on penalties in a dramatic play-off final at Wembley.
Having gone behind early on in extra time remaining from Joe Jacobson’s 25-yard freekick, the Shrimpers equalised in the 122th minute through Joe Pigott, taking the tie to penalties.
But, with Southend 7-6 up on penalties, keeper Dan Bentley proved the hero after saving Sam Wood’s effort.
The win ends Phil Brown’s side five year stay in League 2, and it’s third time lucky for the club – they have twice lost in the play-offs in the past three seasons.
But, on the other hand, it’s play-off heartbreak for Gareth Ainsworth’s Wycombe – last season they won on their last game of the season at Torquay to stay in the league. But, Wembley despair denied them to cap off what has been a remarkable turnaround.
Despite the build up, the first half was somewhat of a boring affair. Southend would have taken the lead through Barry Corr, but his header was disallowed by referee Simon Hooper had blown for a freekick following Cian Bolger’s foul on a Wycombe defender.
However, the Chairboys failed to take advantage of their good fortune as Southend slowly started to take control of the game in the second half. Corr and defender Adam Barrett both spurned good chances.
But when Wycombe’s Hayes fed Aaron Holloway, Bentley had to be at full stretch to deny his low strike.
Bentley then pulled off a remarkable stop to deny Aaron Pierre’s late headed effort as the tie went to an extra 30 minutes.
Wycombe, who finished level on points with their opponents on 84 points, then made their pressure tell after 95 minutes. When Michael Timlin fouled Holloway on the edge of the box, Jacobson curled the ball towards goal. It hit the bar, and unfortunately for Shrimpers keeper Bentley, bounced down and hit the keeper on the back and into the net.
Phil Brown’s side pressed hard and their attacking approach gave Holloway a chance to seal it, but his mazy run was stopped by a despairing diving tackle from Ben Coker.
But the game was sent to penalties as, with the clock ticking, Myles Weston played a ball into the box from the left and Pigott struck into the far corner to send the travelling Southend fans into delirium.
Wycombe goalkeeper Alex Lynch saved the second Southend penalty from Coker but, after Wanderers midfielder Matt Bloomfield – a first-minute substitute for the injured Sam Saunders – missed and the next two were scored, it went to sudden death.
Both sides converted their next two and, after Bolger fired in the 15th penalty of the shootout, Bentley tipped Wood’s effort onto the post to seal the win.