(aet; Bolton 3-2 win on aggregate)
Bolton Wanderers, the one First Division side with Wembley experience this season, are going back to the scene of their Coca-Cola Cup final defeat by Liverpool, but this time to play Reading for the right to step up into the Premier League.
A night of passion and excitement at Burnden Park saw them overturn a one-goal deficit from the first leg with two goals from John McGinlay, one at the end of the first half of normal time and the decider four minutes into the second period of extra time.
Feelings ran high in this war of the Wanderers, with a scuffle even breaking out in the radio box when a supporter objected to a West Midlands broadcaster's opinion that McGinlay should have been sent off after a clash in which he appeared to throw a punch at David Kelly. Fortunate he might have been after that incident, but McGinlay was undoubtedly the dominant figure of the night.
Although a commendably positive battle plan saw all four of the strikers Bruce Rioch has mixed and matched this season on the field at the same time for an hour of the match, and all made their contributions, it was McGinlay who had the sharpness to decide a furious tie.
It was fitting, too, that Jason McAteer was the provider of the first goal. Left to patrol the middle of the field virtually on his own, he showed the precise touch to complement his boundless energy when he chipped the ball into McGinlay's path in the 44th minute. The Scot's right-footed shot, over and beyond Mike Stowell, did the rest.
Owen Coyle, a peripheral figure for Bolton this season, worked just as hard as McAteer, and there can be no higher praise than that on the night, while Mixu Paatelainen, the butt of much of the crowd's frustration during the side's stumbles over the last few weeks, twice had headers cleared off the line.
Perhaps the most unlikely hero was Fabian de Freitas, a Rioch signing who has so far done little to win over the Burnden faithful. His forceful running, however, did much to maintain the momentum when Bolton, deprived of key players in David Lee and Alan Stubbs by injuries during the match, could have lost their shape and coherence.
De Freitas had his golden moment after 109 minutes of almost unbroken frantic action, just as it was looking as though Bolton would need the away-goals rule to give them a precarious route to the final. De Freitas turned away from his marker, Mark Venus, on the right and whipped over a low cross that Peter Shirtliff could only tee up for McGinlay.
Wolves mounted desperate late pressure but it was Bolton's night and they will go to Wembley on 29 May feeling like a side with Premiership credentials.
"It's great for the club and the players that they are going back back to Wembley for the second time this season," said Rioch, who dismissed speculation linking him with Manchester City. "But we haven't done anything yet apart from get there."
Bolton Wanderers (4-3-3): Branagan; Green, Bergsson, Stubbs (Dreyer, 71), Phillips; Lee (De Freitas, 60), McAteer, Alan Thompson; McGinlay, Coyle, Paatelainen. Substitute not used: Shilton (gk).
Wolverhampton Wanderers (4-4-2): Stowell; Andy Thompson, Shirtliff, Richards, Venus; Goodman, Rankine, Cowans, Dennison (Wright, 101); Kelly, Bull. Substitutes not used: Law, Jones (gk).
Referee: S Dunn (Bristol).Reuse content