Lee Bowyer hailed his Charlton team as “machines” after they recovered from the brink of defeat to secure their place in the Sky Bet League One play-off final with a dramatic penalty shoot-out victory over Doncaster.
They appeared to have squandered their one-goal lead from the first leg when the visitors forced extra time at The Valley with Andy Butler’s 88th-minute header and then went 4-3 ahead on aggregate through John Marquis’ finish 10 minutes into the first additional period.
Darren Pratley found an almost instant response to the disappointment of conceding twice, scoring and forcing penalties at the conclusion of a 3-2 reverse on the night.
Charlton then won 4-3 from the spot following misses by Marquis and Tommy Rowe, whose first-half goal had cancelled out Krystian Bielik’s opener for the hosts.
The final will represent Charlton’s first visit to the rebuilt Wembley and also a repeat of one of the most entertaining play-off matches of all time, their victory on penalties over Sunderland in the Division One play-off final of 1998 after a 4-4 draw.
Bowyer has inspired the impressive pursuit of promotion Charlton have sustained through difficult circumstances, and the 42-year-old said: “It’s going to be a very emotional time for me. I was OK through the penalty shoot-out. It’s something you can’t control.
“I told my players I’m proud. I love them all, they gave me everything. They came back in extra time and we were so tired.
“I didn’t fear nothing (when Doncaster took the lead) because I knew they were going to keep going. They’re machines, they never know that it’s over.
“They push themselves beyond every day in training and they’re in this habit of winning games, so I was never worried.
“What we’ve achieved is massive. No one tipped us to be in the top six and we’ve just filled a stadium that hasn’t been filled for so many years. I’m very proud.
“It’s not been easy. There’s been a lot of negativity around here. For one reason or another the fans weren’t coming. That was one of the tasks I set myself. I wanted to rebuild it and get it back to what it was when I left (as a player in 1996).
“The final will be tough. Sunderland will go into it favourites for a couple of reasons. We gave them a good run at their place with a small squad (and lost), played them here and drew. And they’ve already played at Wembley this season.”
Doncaster manager Grant McCann refused to complain that police ordered the shoot-out take place in front of the north stand for safety reasons, which perhaps favoured Charlton by taking it away from the visiting support.
“We played a team who hasn’t lost for seven months here and played them off the park,” the 39-year-old said.