League Two Play-Off Final Match Report: County 1-1 Carlisle United (Carlisle win 5-4 on penalties)

The Hatters’ first trip to Wembley for 15 years, and with the final League Two promotion spot at stake, saw them suffer penalty heartbreak against Carlisle, after the sides could not be separated in 120 minutes of open play.

Tanto Olaofe’s deflected first-half strike had put County in front, but a Carlisle equaliser six minutes from the end sent the Final into extra time and, subsequently, to spot-kicks – with Taylor Charters converting the decisive one.

The Hatters took to the field of the national stadium on a sunny Sunday lunchtime, and showing two changes from the original line-up at Edgeley Park against Salford eight days earlier. Ryan Croasdale and Antoni Sarcevic, who had been introduced as substitutes for the semi-final second leg, were handed starts on this occasion, replacing Connor Evans and Joe Lewis – both of whom dropped to the bench. 

The ‘Cumbrians’, managed by one-time Hatters’ gaffer Paul Simpson, included among their starters captain Paul Huntington, who had turned out on loan for County back in 2009. Another former player from SK3, and Carlisle’s leading scorer for the campaign, Kristian Dennis, was named among the substitutes – but current Hatter Ben Barclay, who had netted the semi-final winner against Bradford City at Brunton Park, could not participate, in accordance with the terms of his season-long loan.

With just under a couple of minutes on the clock, Sarcevic, from the left, created an early chance – crossing to skipper Paddy Madden, who headed over beanpole goalkeeper Tomáš Holý and on to the top netting.

Three minutes later, a free-kick gave the Cumbrians their first sight of goal – only for Owen Moxon’s delivery to curl harmlessly wide of the right post. And, at the other end, one for County just before the quarter-hour, taken by Chris Hussey, sailed beyond the left upright.

Another Moxon free-kick, around the first half’s mid-point, found Joe Garner, whose diving header was on target but tipped around the left post by Ben Hinchliffe. And five minutes later, a first-time shot from Croasdale – teed up by Oalofe – spun away to the right of goal. 

But cometh the half-hour, cometh the man – and Olaofe duly delivered to put County in front, after cutting in from the right, and unleashing a shot that took a deflection off Jon Mellish before looping over Holý and into the far corner.

Carlisle twice went close to levelling as half-time beckoned. A minute before the break, a slip by Fraser Horsfall let in Joel Senior – but a well-timed challenge from Akil Wright calmly stopped the attacking right-back in his tracks. And in the course of four minutes of added time, John-Kymani Gordon was put through on goal before blasting over.

HALF-TIME: County 1 (Olaofe, 34), Carlisle 0.

In the second minute following the resumption, the inaugural attempt of the new half was – as it had been in the first – a Madden header, with the captain this time glancing beyond the far upright after latching on to Ryan Rydel’s cross from the left.

Ten minutes later, the Hatters, attacking the end that housed the County Faithful, went closer with another headed effort, as Wright connected with a Hussey free-kick – but nodded agonisingly wide of the right post. 

Callum Camps fired high, Rydel drilled beyond the right post, and substitute Myles Hippolyte bicycle-kicked narrowly over, as County sought to add to the scoreline. But the Cumbrians continued to press, too, and went close seven minutes from time when a goal-bound Mellish shot was blocked by Kyle Knoyle, with appeals for handball waved away by Referee Nield – and without recourse to VAR that was available for the first time in a County game.

A minute later, however, the scores were level – after Senior’s cross from the right was only partially cleared, to be picked up by substitute Omari Patrick who fired home from the edge of the area to force extra time.

FULL-TIME (after 90 minutes): County 1 (Olaofe, 34), Carlisle 1 (Patrick, 84).

The first period of extra time saw chances at a premium – save for an effort from Croasdale that was deflected past the near post, after he had been teed up by fellow midfielder, Will Collar, on the right. 

In the second period, Jack Stretton, who had begun the season on loan at Carlisle from Derby, went close to haunting the Cumbrians with a well-struck shot that Holý tipped behind. And, at the other end, Dennis was similarly denied as Hinchliffe twisted in mid-air brilliantly to palm away the ex-Hatter’s header, following a Moxon corner from the right. But, ultimately, the scorers were not troubled further – leaving County facing the prospect of penalties for the second successive weekend.

FINAL SCORE (after extra time): County 1 (Olaofe, 34), Carlisle 1 (Patrick, 84).

The shoot-out at the County End saw four substitutes for the Hatters – Connor Evans, Hippolyte, Stretton and Collar – put their penalties away, but Rydel’s was saved by Holý, and, with the nominated Carlisle quintet all obliging, it will be the Cumbrians who grace League One next term for the first time since 2014.

PENALTIES: County 4 (Evans, Hippolyte, Stretton, Collar), Carlisle 5 (Dennis, Mellish, Edmondson, Moxon, Charters). 

Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright (Collar, 67), Horsfall, Hussey; Knoyle, Camps (Byrne, 84), Croasdale, Sarcevic (Evans, 114), Rydel; Olaofe (Stretton, 82), Madden (Capt.) (Hippolyte, 67).

Unused Subs: Jaroš, Lewis.

Booked: Collar.

Attendance: 34,004.

Reporter: Gareth Evans.

Photographer: Mike Petch.


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