Devastating’ end to Wembley dream for Smith
They arrived with Wembley on their lips but Jonté Smith’s Cheltenham Town left battered and bruised yesterday — their season over — having thrown away a two-goal advantage against Northampton Town in the Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-finals.
“It’s devastating, probably the most painful moment of my career,” Smith said of the 3-0 result, which gave Northampton the tie 3-2 on aggregate.
“It’s a tough one to take, but all we can do is learn from it and go again.”
Equally tough was that the Bermuda striker, having been named in the starting XI after impressing as a substitute four days earlier, lasted only until half-time, still feeling the effects of a crunching 50:50 challenge at about the 15-minute mark.
“Having to come off because of injury in such a big game was heartbreaking,” said Smith, who left the ground on crutches and with his right foot in a protective boot.
“Hopefully, it’s [ankle] not too bad, but I’ll find out how it is in a few days when the swelling settles down.”
Northampton, huge underdogs after the first leg and having not beaten Cheltenham in their previous five meetings, were full value for the win and could have had several more goals but for wasteful finishing.
Marked by a calamitous and decisive third goal with 13 minutes left, this was the worst home performance of the season for Cheltenham, and their first defeat at the Jonny-Rocks Stadium since Boxing Day.
Smith had warned last week that Northampton would give it everything in the second leg — and they did, right from the opening exchanges.
Vadaine Oliver put the visiting side ahead in the ninth minute with a commanding header, but they had to wait until ten minutes after the break to draw level in the tie.
Callum Morton scored the first of his two from a yard out when the ball found its way to him in a crowded area from a corner and cannoned off his head into the back of the net.
If Morton knew little about that goal, his second was even more fortuitous, as it came from an unbelievable mix-up between the centre half and the first-leg hero, goalkeeper Owen Evans.
The rebound fell kindly to Morton, who tapped in from two yards to send Northampton players delirious.
Cheltenham, finally showing some intent, huffed and puffed in the closing stages without ever seriously testing the underworked Steve Arnold in the visiting goal.
Northampton will meet Exeter City in the final next Monday, the Devon side beating Colchester United 3-1 after extra time for an identical aggregate scoreline.
Probably just as well for Cheltenham, as they are winless in their past 11 against Exeter, with eight defeats.
But that is of no solace to Smith, whose season ends on an almighty low after promising so much.
“To have Wembley within reach is a feeling I won’t forget,” he said. “But to have it ripped away will be just as memorable.
“It’s an experience that we have to learn from. We will come back stronger; I will come back stronger.”
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