Unlikely scorelines. Pitch invasions. Outfield players in goal. Joey Barton. A “footballing miracle”. In the long history of the English Football League there has never quite been a final day like this.
Bristol Rovers leapfrogged Northampton Town and secured automatic promotion to League One on goals scored after winning 7-0 (SEVEN) on the final day.
Barton’s Pirates – who were playing Scunthorpe United – had to win by five goals more than Northampton, who were at Barrow.
“It’s a bit of a blur,” Rovers keeper James Belshaw told BBC Radio Bristol. “The mad thing is we knew we could. We said all week if we needed to get four, five, six, seven, we could do it.”
When Northampton went 3-0 up within 22 minutes, through a Fraser Horsfall header and Sam Hoskins’ double, it looked at all over. Josh Kay pulled one back for Barrow, who had nothing to play for, in the 45th minute.
At half-time the scorelines were 2-0 and 3-1 respectively to the promotion rivals, meaning Rovers still needed a five-goal swing.
Then in the 53rd minute Bristol Rovers started piling in the goals. And Northampton stopped.
If the Cobblers game finished 3-1, Bristol Rovers would have to win 7-0. It did not seem likely – the last time they did that in the Football League was in 1964 and they have never won a league game by more than seven goals in their 138-year history.
In the first half an Oliver Lobley own goal and Connor Taylor strike set them on their way – and after the break Aaron Collins and Anthony Evans each scored twice to make the dream possible.
Finally, Elliot Anderson netted the seventh goal – one that will go down in history.
Barrow supporters teased the Northampton fans as word reached them of each Pirates goal, to make matters worse.
When Anderson’s goal went in after 85 minutes, that was the end of the drama, right?
Hundreds of Rovers supporters ran onto the pitch with their blue flares going off.
While that was happening, Hoskins went close to giving Northampton a fourth, but he was denied by Paul Farman. If they had scored again, Rovers would have needed an eighth.
Town’s dreams appeared even more unlikely when goalkeeper Liam Roberts was sent off for handling outside his box and, with their substitutes all used, outfield player Danny Rose had to go in goal.
The final whistle went in Cumbria, but play had not even restarted in Bristol.
Barton and Rovers owner Wael al Qadi came onto the pitch pleading with home fans to go back to the stands so the game could finish.
They eventually did after a delay of about 15 minutes, with referee Charles Breakspear warning he would abandon the game if anybody else ran on the pitch.
A Scunthorpe goal would have saved Northampton, but it never came. This was the Iron’s final game in the EFL after 72 years, having already been relegated.
Al Qadi told the BBC: “Incredible. Fantastic to have experienced such a moment. The plan was to go for it. I never doubted this bunch of players. They went for it and look what happened. It’s a footballing miracle.
“We were 91st in the Football League in England. We came back and got promoted in the last second of the season.”
Scunthorpe manager Keith Hill told BBC Radio Humberside: “The opposition were superb. They were miles better than us. We’re not on the same table with respect to eating with the opposition in culinary terms.
“If you look at the net spend of the two squads it gives you a fair indication of why they’ve beaten us 7-0. I’m trying to stop the bucket leaking but it’s been leaking for a long time.”
On the pitch invasion, he said: “I don’t want to talk about that. I don’t want to spoil a fantastic day for Bristol Rovers and Joey. I don’t want it to be sour grapes but we have a duty of care to our players on the pitch. The referee will file a report to the FA.”
Oh and did we mention, Bristol Rovers had never been in the top three all season until that seventh goal? They were 17th on 1 January.
Northampton now have to lift themselves up for the play-offs, where they will play Mansfield – but will have to do it without their suspended first-choice keeper.
Cobbers boss Jon Brady told BBC Radio Northampton:“It’s pretty hard to comprehend now. We were excellent. To go 3-0 up was the perfect start. We’ll dust ourselves down and get ready for the play-offs now.
“It’s an incredible group. The players couldn’t help what’s been done.”
On hearing Scunthorpe had fielded a young team, he added: “I don’t want to say anything on the matter. We need to look forward. Whatever is done is done, whether it’s right or wrong.”
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