It was a real captain’s performance from Richard Wood as his brace secured an instant return to the Sky Bet Championship for Rotherham United in a 2-1 win over Shrewsbury Town.
The Millers defender scored a first-half header, combining it with a neat finish in extra-time, which saw Shrewsbury Town’s dream season end in defeat.
Rotherham had been the better side throughout, but were knocked back when Alex Rodman netted from close range with an hour played.
Rotherham felt they should have had an early penalty. Jon Taylor’s cross from the left was blocked by Aristote Nsiala who appeared to knock the ball behind with his arm.
From the resulting corner, the Millers were given a spot kick as referee Rob Jones signalled that Wood was pulled down when looking to find the net. David Ball stepped up, Dean Henderson saved high to his right.
Despite Rotherham being the most lively, Shrewsbury nearly took the lead through Carlton Morris on the half-hour mark.
Jon Nolan’s cross from the left was met by the head of the Norwich City loanee, who saw his go inches wide.
Moments later, Town found themselves behind. It was the captain Wood who put Rotherham ahead as he broke free on a corner to head low into the net.
The goal sparked further pressure from the team in red, who looked to capitalise on the momentum they had, but the Shrewsbury defence was able to see the game out until the break to regroup.
Salop looked for a response early in the second-half and came within inches of equalising. Morris’ low cross from the right just out of the reach of three attackers running into the six-yard box.
Their pressure paid off through Rodman. A smart passing move, started by a free-kick on the edge of the area saw the ball work its way into the six-yard box, where the winger was in the right place to score under the sprawling Marek Rodak.
Substitute Caolan Lavery had a golden opportunity to put Rotherham ahead on 74 minutes. A long ball forward found him unmarked, but the forward curled his effort wide of the post one-on-one.
Lenell John-Lewis, introduced to the game when Bryn Morris was forced off injured, had a half-chance as the contest entered the final ten minutes, but his shot was dragged wide.
It was nearly game over with five minutes left as Michael Smith rounded Henderson in the box, with the goal at his mercy, the ball hit the back of his boots and into the safety of the Shrewsbury goalkeeper’s arms.
Both sides pushed for the winner in the latter stages, and it was Shrewsbury’s turn as Shaun Whalley had a go from outside the area, Rodak doing enough to get low and keep hold of the ball.
In the 95th minute, Henderson came up big for Town. Ryan Williams broke down the right unmarked before unleashing a powerful shot goalward, only to be stopped by a terrific one-handed save from the Manchester United youngster.
In extra-time, with both sides tiring, Wood was there once again to give Rotherham the lead.
The defender met with a cross to knock the ball into the bottom corner. Henderson, who had bailed Town out in previous incidents, could do nothing but watch on.
For Paul Warne, his first full season in charge has ended in deserved success. Whereas Shrewsbury, the 6/4 favourites for relegation back in August, will be left wondering what could have been as they look to try and mount another unlikely promotion push in 2019.
Sporting Life man of the match: Richard Wood
- Rotherham have won promotion back to the Championship following their first win at Wembley since 1996 (also 2-1 v Shrewsbury, in the FL Trophy) – they had lost each of their previous two playoff finals there before today.
- This is the first time since 2006-07 that three relegated teams from one league have been promoted the next season in the Football League – Hartlepool, Swindon and Walsall were relegated from League One in 2005-06 and promoted from League Two in 2006-07.
- Shrewsbury have played five matches at Wembley and lost all five (including the Football League Trophy final this season); the joint-most among teams to have lost 100% of their games there, along with Brentford (5/5).
- This game was the first League One play-off final to go to extra-time since 2014, when today's winners Rotherham beat Leyton Orient 4-3 on penalties.
- The Shrews won 87 points in the 2017-18 league campaign; the most by a third-tier side who failed to win promotion since Sheffield United in 2011/12 (90).
- Richard Wood’s header was his seventh league goal of the season for Rotherham (inc. playoffs) – the only current Miller players to net more this term were Joe Newell and David Ball (eight each).
- Five of Wood’s 10 goals for Rotherham in league competition have been headers, including two of his three goals in this season’s playoffs (v Scunthorpe and Shrewsbury).
- This was Rotherham's fourth game at Wembley in all competitions, and the fourth consecutive occasion in which one of their players has scored a brace (Nigel Jemson in 1996, Ryan Taylor in 2010, Alex Revell in 2014 and Richard Wood this year).
- Alex Rodman’s goal was his sixth of the campaign for Shrewsbury (inc. playoffs); his most ever in a single season in the Football League.
Paul Warne was delighted that his side managed to bounce back into the Sky Bet Championship at the first time of asking.
He said: "It's up there, it makes it extra special that my kids are at an age that they know what is happening, my dad is ill and has hung in there to see it and if you go to work and work with your best friends then you are pretty blessed.
"So for those three reasons this is pretty special.
"We've had an amazing season, to finish at Wembley with a final is pretty special."
Wood was the hero, and Warne recognised the defender's contribution throughout the season. He added: "He (Wood) is worth a lot to me on and off the pitch.
"I love him to death, and he epitomised what the club stands for, it gives me great joy for him to score two. He is a warrior, that is what he is."
On the opposite side, Shrewsbury Town manager Paul Hurst was left disappointed they couldn't end a remarkable season with promotion.
"My stomach is telling me I'm disappointed, my head is telling me to be very proud that we have come so close to promotion," he said.
"When you see grown men cry and people question whether people care, these lads are committed and gave it all.
"The worry is if we'd have got promoted the gulf in terms of financial power would have made it a huge challenge but one we wanted to tackle.
"Maybe the bigger challenge is trying to get the team and squad together to get even close to replicate what we have done this season. That is the balancing act.
"Can we do it next season? That is the challenge."