Plymouth Argyle manager Steven Schumacher said he was “incredibly proud” to become only the third manager in Argyle’s history to lead them to Wembley Stadium.
The Pilgrims beat Cheltenham Town 3-2 on penalties in the Papa Johns Trophy Semi-Final, after it ended 1-1 in normal time, to book their place at the National Stadium on Sunday 2 April.
The victory means it is just a third trip to Wembley in the Club’s 137-year history - and their first in a cup competition.
“It’s a brilliant feeling to know we’re going to Wembley,” Schumacher said.
“You don’t get many opportunities in your career to go and play at Wembley Stadium, or I certainly didn’t, and for it to be only the third time in the Club’s history to do so and for me to be only the third manager to take the team there, it’s something I’m really proud of.
“The lads have worked so hard for it, they deserve it. We’ve got one more game to go and we’ll go and give it our absolute best shot in April, for sure.”
Argyle controlled most parts of the Semi-Final and were unlucky not to finish it off in normal time, having had two goals disallowed and a long-range effort from Sam Cosgrove denied by the post. Cheltenham goalkeeper Luke Southwood also made a number of vital saves throughout the match.
But it was Argyle goalkeeper Callum Burton who stole the headlines - and deservedly went home with the Player of the Match trophy - after saving three consecutive penalties in what was a thrilling shootout.
With Cheltenham’s Alfie May needing to score to keep his side in it, Burton guessed right, saving the spot-kick to send Schumacher’s side to Wembley.
Three penalty saves in a row, to take your team to @wembleystadium. @Cal_Burton96 leaving nothing to chance 😉#EFL | @Argyle pic.twitter.com/gsFKihfdQx— Papa Johns Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 21, 2023
“Callum’s a brilliant penalty stopper,” Schumacher added. “He’s had a lot of practice the last few months. We practice penalties all the time in training and I always tell the lads to take their matchday penalties. Callum is usually the one in goal.
“Whenever he’s been called upon, he’s had a really good record of stopping them and his saves in that shootout tonight were outstanding.”
Burton has started every game of the Papa Johns Trophy competition for Plymouth this season, but until a recent injury ruled Michael Cooper out for the season, has seen his chances in the league limited.
Schumacher added: “It’s brilliant and it says a lot about his character. Being a number two goalkeeper can be really difficult, especially when everyone every week talks about how good your goalkeeper is, which is what happened here.
“He must have thought he was never going to get a chance but I can honestly say in the 18 months he’s been here, he’s never had a bad training session. He deserves this moment and showed tremendous character.”
𝐖𝐡𝐚𝐭 a performance from this man tonight!— Papa Johns Trophy (@PapaJohnsTrophy) February 21, 2023
Your penalty-shootout hero, @Argyle!#EFL | #PapaJohnsTrophy pic.twitter.com/7iE8OBGxMk
Schumacher was also quick to praise the spirit and character of the rest of his team, before expressing his pride at having the chance to lead the Club out at Wembley.
“You don’t get to a Final of any competition unless you’ve been through some highs and lows and as a team you’ve all had to pull together, and we’ve had to do that throughout this competition.
“The young lads deserve a big mention, they played their part in the early rounds and no one's contribution to us making this Final has gone unnoticed to me. Everyone should be really proud of themselves.”
Argyle were last at the National Stadium in 2016, when they were beaten by AFC Wimbledon in the League Two Play-Off Final. Their only Wembley victory came 20 years earlier in 1996, when they won the Third Division Play-Off Final under the management of Neil Warnock.
“Our fans deserve it," Schumacher concluded. "In my opinion we’re one of the best supported teams with the best fans in the country. They travel such huge distances to watch us play every week, it’s incredible and they deserve a day out at Wembley.
“I really can’t wait, it’s not something I’ve experienced before. It’s going to be such a special occasion and it’s something that’s going to make me incredibly proud. To see the green and white army there will be something I’ll never forget.”