Coventry City's hopes of a Wembley final dashed despite dramatic 2-0 second leg away win at Crewe
Coventry City fell agonisingly short of a Wembley final in the Johnstone's Paint Trophy after a dramatic 2-0 away win over Crewe Alexandra at the Alexandra Stadium.
City looked all but finished as a goalless game headed into five minutes of added time but an own goal from Mark Ellis and a Leon Clarke header gave the game a grandstand finish which still ultimately saw the Railwaymen progress through to the final.
City were faced with the huge task of overturning the 3-0 first leg defeat at the Ricoh Arena and while they created enough chances to turn the tie on its head, it was not to be their night despite their brave late showing which gave fans a glimmer of hope.
Sky Blues interim boss Lee Carsley kept faith in the side that picked up three points away to Bury on Saturday, sticking with the 4-4-2 formation that yielded two goals at Gigg Lane.
They very nearly started in the same fashion as well when, after two minutes, a peach of a deep cross from Carl Baker picked out Leon Clarke whose header flashed across the face of goal and just wide of the far post.
City's attacking intent was clear early on as they searched for a strike to narrow the three-goal first leg deficit, James Bailey next to find his range with a half volley from 25 yards which steadily rose over the bar.
Crewe reminded the Sky Blues of their own desire to reach Wembley just a minute later though when a quick break allowed Mattias Pogba to feed a ball to Breddan Inman whose effort was only blocked by a timely challenge from Cyrus Christie.
Baker really tested Crewe 'keeper Steve Phillips after 15 though with a stinging long range effort that Phillips saw late and parried away, very nearly into the path of the waiting Stephen Elliott.
City's next opportunity did not come until the half hour mark after the game descended into a scrappy, but full-bloodied, midfield battle, a spell broken by a whipped in cross from Gary McSheffrey on the left that found the boot of Clarke who was only able to guide his first time effort just wide of the near post.
McSheffrey then had a gilt-edged chance of his own ten minutes before the break when a troublesome right-wing cross from Baker found McSheffrey at the back post, the midfielder taking one touch before firing a shot that flashed across the face of goal and evaded the outstretched boot of Elliott by inches.
It was a case of inches again a minute into first half stoppage time as Clarke and Elliott burst through the middle of the final third and looked odds on to poke home a goal when Gregor Robertson stuck in a last ditch challenge that nearly put the ball in his own net.
Crewe came out of the blocks quicker for the second half when Mark Ellis' far post header flew just over the bar but City came back just moments later when Bailey picked up a ball on the counter attack and shot just wide from 20 yards.
The hosts had a chance to put the tie to bed on 53 minutes when Pogba broke down the left and cut a ball back for the waiting AJ Leitch-Smith but the striker could only shoot at Joe Murphy from 12 yards, the City 'keeper blocking but spilling the ball as Nathan Cameron moved in to clear the danger.
With the task of overturning the three-goal deficit getting increasingly more difficult with every passing minute, City continued to pour forward and went close on 69 minutes when substitute Jordan Clarke rushed through the heart of the midfield and fired from 30 yards, his ambitious effort going just wide.
Leon Clarke then had a great opportunity a moment later when he was laid off with a chance by Bailey and tried to curl his effort around the 'keeper but instead guided it into his chest.
City carried on admirably despite the gravity of the challenge and Baker was denied at the near post with seven minutes to go by a point blank stop from Phillips.
The same then happened to Leon Clarke just seconds later when he was presented with a chance at the back post but denied a finish by the boot of Adam Dugdale.
Cameron's header was then blocked on the line by Ellis from the resulting corner, a stop that further underlined it was not looking to be Coventry's night.
The tide of the game changed though as five minutes of added time beckoned when a long ball forward connected with the head of Ellis who directed the ball past his own 'keeper.
No sooner had City got what many were considering to be a consolation goal, they got a second when a whipped in cross found Leon Clarke to power a header home, making Sky Blues fans believe in the impossible.
It proved too little too late though despite Crewe clinging on at the end as the home side managed to see out a highly charged last 30 seconds to grasp a place at Wembley.
Attendance: 8,325 (2,268 Sky Blue Army)
Coventry City: Murphy, Christie, Wood (J Clarke 55), Cameron, Dickinson, McSheffrey, Jennings, Bailey (Fleck 72), Baker (c), Elliott (Wilson 64), L Clarke
Subs: Dunn (GK), Thomas
Crewe: Phillips, Ellis, Dugdale, Murphy (c), Pogba, Leitch-Smith (Moore 79), Mellor, Robertson, Osman, Aneke, Inman
Subs: Martin (GK), Davis, Clayton, Turton