Notts County, play-off winners in 1990 and 1991, earned the chance to complete a Wembley hat-trick when Gary Martindale, their pounds 150,000 signing from Peterborough, scored his 26th goal of the season to end Crewe's hopes of promotion to the First Division.
Crewe would have begun last night's play-off semi-final second leg in a healthier position had they not squandered their first-half gains at Gresty Road on Sunday. County, two down after 17 minutes, fought back to parity in the second half, Martindale scoring their second goal in injury time.
Dario Gradi, the Crewe manager, curiously omitted both goal-scorers, Colin Little and Mark Rivers. Gary Blissett and Dele Adebola were recalled as Crewe, traditionally among the more subtle teams at this level, opted for a more direct approach.
The consequence, given County's predilection for similar tactics, was an uncomfortable evening for anyone prone to cricked necks and midfielders on both sides rendered surplus to requirements.
The contest was fairly even although, on balance of clear chances, the home side set the pace, their best opening in the first half fell to Tony Battersby, who cut into the penalty area on the right before unleashing a left-foot shot that Mark Gayle pushed around his near post.
Nothing Crewe could muster troubled Darren Ward so much and County continued to threaten the Crewe goal in a lively start to the second half in which Martindale hit the woodwork, at first with a header and then with a shot that struck Gayle's body and bounced off the foot of a post before being cleared.
They were ominous moments for the visitors, and the breakthrough came in the 62nd minute when Tony Agana's deep cross from the left was headed back across goal by Stephen Finnan and volleyed home by Martindale from 10 yards.
Notts County (4-4-2): Ward; Derry, Murphy, Strodder, Baraclough; Finnan, Rogers, Richardson, Agana; Battersby, Martindale. Substitutes not used: Hogg, Pollitt, Jones.
Crewe Alexandra (4-3-3): Gayle; Westwood, Lightfoot, McAllister, Unsworth; Savage, Ridings (Barr, 75), Collins (Tierney, 89); Adebola, Macauley, Blissett (Rivers, 71).
Referee: K Lynch (Knaresborough).Reuse content