Cobblers set up Bradford final
Two individual moments of brilliance in 14 first-half minutes earned Northampton a 1-0 win at Cheltenham and a place in the npower League Two play-off final against Bradford at Wembley.
First goalkeeper and man of the match Lee Nicholls kept the Cobblers' 1-0 lead from Thursday's first leg intact with a fine save to keep out Marlon Pack's 14th-minute penalty, before a long-range thunderbolt from Luke Guttridge put them in control.
And despite Cheltenham's best efforts, they never really threatened a memorable comeback until Kaid Mohamed's header crashed off the crossbar with 14 minutes remaining as the visitors registered a 2-0 aggregate victory and with it, moved a step closer to a return to the third tier after four seasons.
Cheltenham boss Mark Yates handed striker Darryl Duffy his first start since New Year's Day but it was strike partner Paul Benson who had the first real effort of note with an effort that flew straight at Nicholls.
The Robins have struggled for goals in recent weeks and have failed to net since Russell Penn's strike in their 1-0 win over Exeter on April 20. But a foul by Ben Tozer on the midfielder right on the edge of the box handed them the perfect chance to end that run in the 13th minute.
After the controversy over the decision to point to the spot died down, Pack's fourth penalty of the campaign was saved superbly by Nicholls. The Wigan loanee plunged low to his left-hand side to spark wild celebrations amongst the travelling fans behind his goal.
A minute later, Duffy cut inside from the left flank before dragging his shot into the side netting while Penn tested Nicholls once more with a free-kick which he pushed around the post.
In the 28th minute and with their first real effort of note, Guttridge moved his side a step closer to Wembley with a goal fit to grace his country's national stadium.
Latching on to Adebayo Akinfenwa's knock-down the midfielder let the ball bounce before smashing home an unstoppable half-volley from 25 yards. The 31-year-old's second of the season was the first Scott Brown had conceded at home since March 2.
The former Southend man did show the other side of his game minutes later with a high tackle on Penn which saw him deservedly yellow carded.
Brown, with three clean sheets in his last four games, then did well to deny Chris Hackett in his top right-hand corner as the Cobblers looked for the goal which would surely set up a play-off final with Bradford.
With 18 minutes to go Brown kept the Robins in the tie as he denied Hackett when the former Millwall man was sent one-on-one with the shotstopper.
The home side were then inches away from clawing their way back into the tie when substitute Mohamed's header rattled the woodwork.
At the other end Nicholls was once again at his best to keep out Sam Deering's snapshot and then Harrad's effort with a minute remaining as the Robins lost at home for the first time since January 7.
And while the final whistle sparked jubilant scenes amongst those in green with a May 18 Wembley date now on the horizon, Cheltenham were left to reflect on play-off heartache for the second successive season.