Southend United beat Wycombe Wanderers on penalties in the Sky Bet League 2 Play-Off Final following a 1-1 draw at Wembley Stadium.The Shrimpers prevailed 7-6 on spot-kicks after Daniel Bentley superbly denied Sam Wood to book their place in Sky Bet League 1 next season.
Following a goalless 90 minutes that saw few clear-cut chances, the pair locked horns in a feisty extra half an hour, which produced a goal apiece for the two finalists.
Phil Brown’s men had trailed through Joe Jacobson’s free-kick, which hit the underside of the crossbar and bounced in off of goalkeeper Bentley, and it looked enough to secure the victory for Wycombe.
But Joe Pigott’s 121st-minute equaliser brought them back to life, and they secured promotion with an epic shoot-out victory under the arch.
The match began in unfortunate circumstances as Wycombe’s Sam Saunders had to be substituted in the first minute after twisting his ankle in a challenge. Matt Bloomfield, his replacement, had the first effort on goal but he pulled his shot well wide.
Southend won three successive corners to instil some early pressure onto the Chairboys - Barry Corr was the only man to successfully hit the target from those, but his effort bounced onto the turf and safely into the clutches of Alex Lynch.
Twice the ball found the back of the net in the first half – once at each end – as Corr had a header ruled out for an off-the-ball infringement, and Paul Hayes was deemed offside when he converted.
Hogan Ephraim saw plenty of possession in wide positions, and was pulling the strings for Wycombe. He swung in a ball for Hayes, but the 31-year-old couldn’t find the significant touch to guide it past Shrimpers stopper Bentley.
The second half, much like the first, was a slow burner, and Michael Timlin’s lofted delivery that was met by the head of Adam Barrett proved the best chance of the game, but the defender could only glance wide.
Wycombe’s moment came just after it, when Aaron Holloway’s neat through ball fed Hayes, who saw his low driven effort superbly saved by Bentley low down to his left.
Then Aaron Pierre almost booked Wanderers’ place in League 1 with a header from the penalty spot, but Bentley was on hand once again to excellently tip over the crossbar, and force extra-time.
Gareth Ainsworth’s side came flying out of the blocks in the additional 30 minutes, and were finally ahead in the 97th minute through Jacobson's curling, 25-yard free-kick, which hit the woodwork before going in via the back of Bentley.
The Chairboys looked to be seeing the game out but, after Corr had headed down a Myles Weston cross in the 121st minute, Pigott steadied himself and slid the ball home, taking the match to penalties.
The 21-year-old goalscorer was one of six successful penalty takers for the Shrimpers, with Ben Coker missing. But goalkeeper Bentley proved to be the hero by denying both Bloomfield and, crucially, Wood, to secure a dramatic promotion.
Southend United: Bentley (GK), White (Capt), Bolger, Barrett, Coker, Worrall (Payne 97), Atkinson (Weston 79), Leonard, Timlin, McLaughlin (Pigott 59), Corr.
Subs not used: Smith (GK), Prosser, Deegan, Cassidy.
Booked: Bolger, Leonard.
Wycombe Wanderers: Lynch (GK), Yennaris (Murphy 111), Jacobson, Mawson, Pierre, Saunders (Bloomfield 3), Bean, Wood, Ephraim (Craig), Holloway, Hayes (Capt).
Subs not used: Horlock (GK), McClure, Kretzschmar, Onyedinma.
Booked: Hayes, Mawson, Wood.
Referee: Simon Hooper.