Match analysis: Cheltenham 0, Crewe Alex 2
CREWE'S bravehearts proved the old adage that all good things must come to an end isn't necessarily true – not at Wembley at least.
Their incredible renaissance under Steve Davis had seen the compilation of a record unbeaten run of 18 games.
So the 19th, under the famous arch, was not the one to be finally found wanting.
And, true to form, a performance characterised by no little grit and determination, as well as the skill and style for which the club has long been renowned, saw off Cheltenham's dogged directness to book a return to League One after a three-year absence.
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Nick Powell ensured the Premier League scouts were adding to their notebooks with a first-half finish of exquisite skill to set them on their way.
But they then had to weather a first-half barrage aimed at Cheltenham targetman Ben Burgess, as well as repel the threat out wide posed by Jermaine McGlashan.
After living dangerously for an uncomfortable spell, in which goal-line clearances and the woodwork came to their aid, they emerged to take the final stages by the scruff of the neck as the Robins burnt out under a blistering north London sun.
Byron Moore's late strike put the seal on a display of character which has become the norm under Davis's tutelage.
Crewe had been boosted by Luke Murphy's inclusion in midfield after a hamstring problem. Lee Bell's demotion to the bench was Davis's only change in personnel from the semi-final second leg at Southend.
And the Alex boss also opted for the same system which had served him well in that tie with youngster Kelvin Mellor staying on the left of the back four, while regular full-back Matt Tootle was deployed on the left wing.
Cheltenham boss Mark Yates sprang a surprise by introducing Jeff Goulding alongside Ben Burgess up front when it had been suggested he might opt for a 4-5-1 formation.
And burly Burgess was later to prove more of a handful to Crewe's defence than Goulding's finishing.
But neither of the strikers saw much of the ball early on as the Alex looked far sharper and tidier in possession.
Kaid Mohamed dragged an early effort well wide before Crewe began to move through the gears.
Dave Artell climbed the highest to head over Ashley Westwood's long free-kick, only to be pulled up for a foul.
Murphy was quick to move the ball on to his left foot for a 20-yard effort which Scott Brown dropped down to the save.
Cheltenham's methodology on the right flank was clear with Sido Jombati threading balls inside for McGlashan's overlap.
Crewe were dissected in such a manner in the 11th minute, but Steve Philips came to the rescue punching out McGlashan's cross-cum-shot.
And it was the Railwaymen who swept into a deserved 15th-minute lead when Mellor worked a short throw with Harry Davis and slipped the ball infield for Powell. The teenager cleverly switched direction and crashing a terrific left-foot volley beyond Brown into the far corner.
Cheltenham's response was swift with Goulding unleashing from 25 yards on to the crossbar to leave Phillips and his defenders scrambling to prevent Mohamed heading in the rebound.
Goulding steered Burgess's flick-on past Phillips, but the offside flag had long been raised.
But Crewe were under siege by the time Mohamed and Goulding both blasted high and not so handsome from more aerial balls won by the towering presence of Burgess.
Powell offered some respite when he cut in, this time on his right boot, and drove a yard past the bottom corner.
And Mellor demonstrated his threat in the air when he arrived on to a Westwood corner, only to get under his header.
But the half closed uncomfortably for Crewe with Phillips earning his corn tipping Goulding's set-piece header over and Mohamed again showing no composure whatsoever with a wild yahoo from another corner.
In stoppage time Powell proved a smart card at the other end of the pitch with a goal-line clearance to prevent Steve Elliott's header squaring matters.
Then when Crewe failed to clear their lines, Mohamed was left claiming in vain his snapshot, repelled this time by Westwood, had crossed the line. TV replays showed it hadn't.
Marlon Pack was inches away from an equaliser soon after the restart when connecting a right boot to Mohamed's lay-off.
Phillips was Crewe's hero when denying Mohamed at close quarters in the 54th minute after Adam Dugdale's slip had let the winger clear inside the box.
Spaces were beginning to open up for Davis's men as Cheltenham were forced to commit forward.
Ajay Leitch-Smith and then Powell almost worked openings against the legs of some tiring defenders.
Mohamed too applied pressure on Davis junior to deliver across the box, but the excellent Phillips was equal to the task.
Elliott's clumsy challenge offered Westwood the opportunity to clip a free-kick over Brown's six-yard-box which the keeper scrambled off Dugdale's toes less than convincingly.
Luke Summerfield's volleyed effort looked ambitious from such a tight angle as Yates attempted to inject fresh impetus into the Cheltenham attack by replacing the wasteful Goulding with Darryl Duffy.
An exhausted Powell – whose penalty appeals fell on deaf ears after he'd been wrestled to the ground – was making way for Max Clayton with just over 10 minutes left.
But it was the hard-working Moore who guaranteed the victory with a confident finish eight minutes from time.
The winger was galloping clear on the right of the box to receive Leitch-Smith's return pass and drive into the far corner.
And the Stoke-based player almost added a second as Cheltenham's defence melted around him as he skewed wide before Clayton almost put the icing on the cake with a third only to be denied by Brown's low stop.
That left the fantastic 13,000 following who had headed down south to bask in the pride of having witnessed an end to the campaign only the deluded optimists among them would have thought possible six months ago.