Tranmere Rovers...............2 (5)
Aldershot Town.................2 (2)
Tranmere Rovers booked a trip to Wembley next Sunday after drawing with Aldershot but winning the two-legged tie on aggregate.
The teams entered the arena to a deafening roar as Prenton Park set about pushing their heroes onto a showdown at the national stadium.
Cole Stockton gave Rovers the lead after half an hour but the Shots hit back through Bernard Mensah before half time.
A Jeff Hughes own goal gave the Shots hope after the break but despite some hairy moments at both ends of the pitch, Tranmere managed to see the game out and James Norwood equalised in injury time to seal a 5-2 victory on aggregate that leaves the club 90 minutes from a return to the Football League.
Micky Mellon named a completely unnamed side (and bench) from the comprehensive 3-0 first leg victory over the Shots on Wednesday night.
The Bebington Kop stand was more than half full 45 minutes before kick off as a buzz of anticipation reverberated around the ground.
Aldershot’s Scott Rendell got an early introduction to the methods of Steve McNulty, as the two clashed early on, leaving the former in a heap on the floor.
A similar challenge on Idris Kanu did not go unpunished however but from the subsequent Nick Arnold free kick, Scott Davies was able to make a comfortable save.
As Rovers countered, Jeff Hughes tried to lift the ball over the goalkeeper, but it was blocked by the back of Will Evans and bounced wide for a corner.
Connor Jennings then got round the back of the Shots defence, but Arnold cut out his cross for James Norwood.
Rendell had a chance to put the visitors ahead in the 24th minute, but his first touch in the six-yard box was not tight enough and Michael Ihiekwe was able to dash in and clear the danger.
A cross from Liam Ridehalgh was punched clear by Jake Cole before Cole Stockton fired the rebound over the bar.
Norwood wanted a penalty when he took a tumble in the box on the half hour mark but the referee wasn’t interested.
Tranmere were looking solid at the back, forcing Matt McClure to test Davies from 25 yards.
But Rovers opened the scoring on the half hour mark when Stockton collected the ball on the edge of the box and evaded his marker before stroking the ball home.
The goal spark scenes of joy in Prenton Park as any early nerves were instantly lifted.
Tranmere nearly doubled their advantage a minute later when Norwood cross for Hughes at the front post, but Evans was able to produce a last ditch tackle.
Lois Maynard flicked a cheeky effort from the edge of the Dee just wide of Cole’s post, as Tranmere looked to put their visitors completely out of sight.
But as half time approached, Aldershot drew level with a goal out of nothing, when Mensah produced a sublime curling strike from 25 yards that left Davies clutching thin air.
Emmanuel Oyeleke then hit one over the bar for the Shots as Tranmere were reminded that complacency was not an option so early in the game.
Tranmere came agonisingly close to reaffirming a four goal cushion early in the second half when Maynard headed a cross from Adam Buxton against the outside of the post, with Cole getting a vital fingertip on the ball.
And from the subsequent corner, the Aldershot stopper was back in business – this time saving a Norwood header on the line.
But having lead 4-0 on aggregate after Stockton’s opener, that advantaged was halved when the Shots took the lead in the 50th minute.
Tranmere lost control from an Aldershot corner and Hughes ended up nodding the ball into his own net.
That momentarily silenced the home crowd while the travelling contingent were resurgent in voice.
Mellon recognised the danger and dropped Norwood back into midfield, as he tried to nullify the threat out wide.
A desperate lunge from Evans diverted a cross from Ridehalgh behind for a corner as Stockton waited to pounce.
Brilliant work from James Wallace saw the midfielder tee up Maynard but his side foot effort was cleared off the line.
Cole then saved a Maynard header from point blank range but when Norwood had the ball in the net from Rovers’ next attack, he was flagged offside when it looked like only Stockton was in an illegal position.
At the other end, Davies was then forced to make a save from Matt McClure before Mensah hacked over the rebound.
Andy Mangan came on for the injured James Wallace as Mellon looked to injected more pace into his side.
Another counter from Rovers saw Norwood go it alone but he was denied by the brilliant Cole – diving to his right.
Stockton then cashed onto a ball over the top, but Cole was there again to punch it to safety.
A failure convert those chances meant that Tranmere continued to live dangerously whenever Aldershot attacked.
Bedlam from a corner saw the visitors only denied a third goal when Davies made an outstanding full stretch save from the head of Rendell.
The Kop started to find it’s voice again and when Norwood crossed for Stockton with eight minutes to play his out-stretched foot could only divert the ball over the bar.
Another break saw Mangan scamper down the left but Stockton could only pull his deflected cross wide of the goal.
But the Super White Army sensed victory and deep in injury time Norwood found the net from eight yards sparking scenes of bedlam in Prenton Park.
Tranmere will face either Forest Green Rovers or Dagenham & Redbridge in the final, but whoever it is, Micky Mellon’s men will be favourites to return to the Football League.
The manager told Globe Sport: "It’s fantastic that we’re going to go and fight for the last place in the division at Wembley. It’s incredible for us.
“Of course we’re going to enjoy the fact that we’re there now, but very quickly get back down to earth again and get the lads the best prepared we can for an unbelievable final at the national stadium.
“We had a game plan. We knew we were in front.
"There was no need to panic about that so we did the jobs that we needed to do. You never know how the game’s going to go of course.
“To get the first goal was great for us and then to lose it a minute before half time was disappointing.
“You’ve got to give credit to Aldershot. They had a right good go at it. They threw everything at us. It made for an exciting game but it’s certainly not the way you’d want to live the rest of your life is it?”
Tranmere Rovers 2 (5) Stockton 31, Norwood 90+4
Aldershot Town 2 (2) Mensah 44, Hughes (o.g.) 50
Half time: 1-1
Star man: Jake Cole (Aldershot goalkeeper).
Ref rating: Scott Oldham (7/10)
Tranmere (4-3-3): Davies player rating 9; Buxton 7, McNulty 9, Ihiekwe 6, Ridehalgh 6; Hughes 6, Wallace 7 (Mangan 70, 7), Maynard 7; C Jennings 7, Stockton 8, Norwood 8.
Subs not used: Turner, Cook, Collins, Dunn
Aldershot (4-4-2): Cole player rating 9; Arnold 7, Evans 7, Reynolds 6, Straker 6; Kanu 6 (Fenelon 73, 6), Oyeleke 7, Gallagher 6 (Kellermann 73, 6), Mensah 8; Rendell 8, McClure 8
Subs not used: Alexander, Hyam, Smith