It was a penalty shootout that left Manchester United legend Gary Neville in tears. And as the dust settled on a dramatic Salford City victory over brave Eastleigh, the realisation started to sink in: Salford are off to Wembley. There, they will meet AFC Fylde to do battle for the Holy Grail for any non-league club — the Football League.
Salford saw off Eastleigh on penalties after a thrilling semi-final to set up a National League promotion final with the Coasters in what will be both outfits’ first visit to the home of football.
Salford, owned by ex-Old Trafford aces players Ryan Giggs, Neville and brother Phil, Paul Scholes and Nicky Butt since 2014, will be chasing a fourth promotion in five seasons.
On the night they led thanks to Carl Piergianni’s header but Paul McCallum’s goal brought the scores level before keeper Chris Neal’s amazing penalty save from Chris Zebroski set them on the path to Wembley this Saturday, May 11.
A clearly delighted Alexander was full of praise for his charges. He said: “It was a tough game which we knew would happen, when you get to this stage of the season and into the play-offs it’s all quality teams and we all won a lot of games to get here, and it was the game we probably expected it would be from Eastleigh.
“They’re a very organised team, didn’t give much away although I thought we created some real good opportunities but it went all the way to penalties, then it’s down to the players to show the right mentality, their courage and trust their training, technique and they did that. I thought we grew into the extra time, we pushed it right until the final whistle but I thought it was a real tough game, two excellent teams and we’re just delighted to come out on top!”
Meanwhile, the hero of the hour Neal says the win was deserved and his saves – he also saved a spot-kick from Sam Matthews were down to research.
He said: “To be honest the preparation is done in the week, as a goalkeeper department we do our research and have a look at the penalties so I was confident on a couple that I knew which way they were going, so it’s just a little bit of luck, guessing right, going early, sticking your paws out and hopefully get that little bit of luck!
“We had a good training week this week and I think it showed today, it was always going to be a nervy, edgy game but luckily we came out on top. It was one of them games I was not very busy in certain minutes of the game so you’ve got to keep in the game, keep concentrated, and you know there’s always going to be one or two big saves to make.
“We haven’t achieved anything yet, we set out to achieve promotion to League Two and that’s still our target. We’re not celebrating too much today because we know we’ve still got a job to do at Wembley.”