Under the appreciative gaze of Gordon Banks, the guest of honour at yesterday's Nationwide Conference play-off final, Scott Howie saved three penalties to ensure that Shrewsbury won a shoot-out with Aldershot and gained promotion back to the Third Division at the first attempt.
The 12,000 fans who made the short trip from Shropshire to Stoke City's sun-dappled home sank sadly into their seats when Luke Rodgers blazed the first penalty over. But then Howie went to work. Making nonsense of the jibes about Scottish goalkeepers, he denied Tim Sills, Chris Giles and Jamie Gosling while the outstanding Jamie Tolley, Jake Sedgemore and, finally, Trevor Challis struck for Shrewsbury.
Howie's second stop from the spot was eerily reminiscent of one by Banks from Geoff Hurst which helped Stoke overcome West Ham to reach the League Cup final in 1972. Like the England World Cup-winner, the 6ft 3in free-transfer recruit from Bristol Rovers dived the wrong way, yet he thrust out his trailing arm to keep out Giles' kick.
Shrewsbury's manager, Jimmy Quinn, explained that the taming of the Shots was no fluke. "We got the video of their penalties in the shoot-out with Hereford in their play-off semi-final," he said. "Scott took it home and studied it for a week. It paid off."
For Quinn, who took over at Gay Meadow last summer after Shrewsbury's relegation, the afternoon represented a sweet reversal in his play-off fortunes. In 1995 he was in joint charge of Reading when they led Bolton 2-0 with seven minutes left at Wembley and the Premiership beckoning. Having wasted a penalty, they ended up losing 4-3.
Aldershot's manager, Terry Brown, was magnanimous in defeat, even though his part-timers were marginally superior to their full-time opponents over 120 minutes. "Fair play to their keeper, who looked massive," he said. "The save from Giles was world-class and he guessed right on the others."
Brown, whose side escaped the Ryman League only a year ago, added: "We have no complaints about the system because we got here by that route. It just wasn't meant to be. It hurts, but I'm very proud of the boys - they gave everything".
Aldershot, themselves seeking a League return after 12 years' exile, were superbly marshalled by Ray Warburton, a veteran of Conference promotions with Boston and Rushden & Diamonds. The centre-back set up the opening goal, heading Adam Miller's free-kick down for Aaron McLean to volley in.
Shrewsbury soon equalised in near-identical circumstances. Tolley's corner was headed by another central defender, David Ridler, into the six-yard area, where Duane Darby volleyed into the roof of the net.
As players tired in extra time, Aldershot's Lee Charles headed into the ground and over the bar from two yards. Shrewsbury, spurred by the tireless Tolley, made the most of their reprieve and will hope to emulate the side that preceded them in third place, Doncaster, by using play-off success as a springboard for a further promotion.
Goals: McLean (35) 1-0; Darby (43) 1-1.
Aldershot Town (4-4-2): Bull; Downer (Hooper, 66), Giles, Warburton, Sterling; Miller, Antwi, Gosling, Challinor; McLean (Sills, 60), D'Sane (Charles, 86). Substitutes not used: Barnard (gk), Chewins.
Shrewsbury Town (4-4-2): Howie; Sedgemore, Ridler, Tinson (Lawrence, 91), Challis; Lowe, O'Connor (Street, 85), Tolley, Aiston; Darby (Cramb, 93), Rodgers. Substitutes not used: Hart (gk), Edwards.
Referee: K Stroud (Dorset).
Bookings: Aldershot: Sterling. Shrewsbury: Lowe, O'Connor, Ridler.
Man of the match: Howie.
- More about:
- Bristol Rovers FC
- Conference National (football Conference)
- Geoff Hurst
- Stoke City
- The Carling Cup
- West Ham United