Notts County back in EFL with sub goalkeeper Archie Mair the shoot-out hero
Substitute goalkeeper Archie Mair was the hero as Notts County beat Chesterfield in a Wembley penalty shoot-out to end a four-year absence from the English Football League.
Mair, on loan from Norwich and sent on in the final minute of extra time for the spot-kick contest, denied Darren Oldaker and Jeff King with full-length saves as County won 4-3 on penalties after the game had been drawn 2-2 after 120 minutes.
Macaulay Langstaff, Ruben Rodrigues, Jodi Jones and Cedwyn Scott were successful from the spot for County, the latter achieving redemption having missed from 12 yards in the promotion showdown with Wrexham last month.
Andrew Dallas’ early penalty seemed set to signal more end-of-season misery for County before John Bostock equalised with just two minutes left on the clock.
Paul Cook’s Chesterfield quickly regained the lead in extra time with Armando Dobra’s superb curling effort worthy of winning any cup final, but Rodrigues’ equaliser 12 minutes from time sent the game to penalties.
It was promotion delight at last for County who were relegated from the EFL in 2019 and have contested the National League play-offs in every campaign since.
Luke Williams’ side had finished 23 points clear of Chesterfield at the end of a regular season in which they had pushed champions Wrexham all the way.
Chesterfield, themselves beaten in the play-offs in the last two years, showed their attacking intent inside 35 seconds as Ryan Colclough fired over.
Nerves were clearly on show as goalkeeper Sam Slocombe dribbled out the resulting goal-kick.
Slocombe was penalised for kicking the ball twice and penalised to offer the Spireites a golden chance top open the scoring.
But as County defenders rushed from the goal-line, Slocombe atoned for his mistake by blocking King’s free-kick.
County’s reprieve lasted just moments as Slocombe suffered another rush of blood and brought down Dallas, who had raced onto a pass over the top of the Notts defence.
Dallas, part of the Solihull side beaten by Grimsby in last year’s play-off final, sent his penalty down the middle as Slocombe dived to his right.
The route to goal offered real promise for a Spireites side keen to exploit County’s high defensive line.
County had some hairy moments but finally found a foothold in the game and Chesterfield struggled to contain Aaron Nemane out wide.
Nemane’s powerful effort forced a save from Ross Fitzsimons at the near post and County upped the tempo after the restart.
Sam Austin had a clear sight of goal after another Nemane burst and Connell Rawlinson then had an even better chance, the unmarked defender sending his header from eight yards just wide.
Chesterfield were becoming increasingly camped in their own half, but Colclough drove agonisingly wide from a rare Spireites forward raid.
Time was fast running out for County when Fitzsimons spilled Bostock’s free-kick at his near post and the ball squirmed over the line.
Chesterfield were in front again three minutes in to extra time when Dobra was released on the left and cut back on to his right foot to beat Slocombe in style.
County belatedly fashioned a couple of chances for Langstaff and Rawlinson drifted an effort wide.
But Rodrigues’ shot bounced into the turf and over the head of Fitzsimons, and Williams’ decision to send on Mair would prove a masterstroke.