Wanderers lost out on penalties in a dramatic Sky Bet League 2 Play-Off Final.After a goalless 90 minutes, Joe Jacobson's free-kick but the Blues in front before Joe Pigott levelled in stoppage time, taking the game to a shootout.
16 penalties were taken in a pulsating contest but it was Southend who came out victorious, ending the season in the cruellest possible fashion for Wycombe.
Gareth Ainsworth kept faith with the same side that had seen off Plymouth Argyle in the semi-final second leg, which meant Alex Lynch remained in goal with Matt Ingram unable to recover in time from his knee problem.
But he was forced into a change inside the first few seconds when an over-zealous challenge on Sam Saunders straight from kick-off ended the midfielder’s involvement in the game, with Matt Bloomfield taking his place.
The match started with a high intensity and Sam Wood almost got on the end of Hogan Ephraim’s inviting cross, before a dangerous delivery from Michael Timlin couldn’t find a yellow shirt at the other end.
Southend came closest to breaking the deadlock when Cian Bolger flashed a header wide from a corner, before both sides saw goals disallowed in quick succession as Bolger’s push on Nico Yennaris cut short Barry Corr’s celebrations, and then Paul Hayes was caught just offside from Sam Wood’s pass as the ball rebounded off a defender and into the net.
The game entered a scrappy spell with a series of unnecessary fouls affecting the flow of the game, but Hayes poked straight at Bentley and Wood fizzed a shot just over the bar in quick succession as the Wanderers looked to impose themselves on the opposition.
There were no further chances before the interval but both sides looked enterprising at the start of the second period, with Hogan Ephraim’s deflected cross-shot going wide before Joe Jacobson denied David Worrall a chance in the six-yard box after Corr dummied a low cross from the left.
Wanderers’ left-back was then involved at the other end, curling a free-kick over the bar from 25 yards, before Alfie Mawson thundered a header wide whilst under pressure.
Barry Corr tested Alex Lynch with a header from David Worrall’s cross soon after the hour-mark, and Adam Barrett twice missed the target in quick succession from dangerous corners as the Essex club began to get on top.
But Wycombe bounced back and Hayes drew a smart save from Bentley down to his left after neat build-up play, and the introduction of Steven Craig from the bench gave them fresh impetus, as his cross from the left was met with a bullet header from Aaron Pierre, only for Bentley to tip it over with just three minutes left on the clock.
The sides couldn’t be separated at full-time so the game entered a period of 30 minutes of extra-time, which began with Paul Hayes shooting wide and heading over the bar.
Then, finally, the deadlock was broken to spark delirious scenes in the east end of Wembley as Joe Jacobson’s free-kick bounced down off the underside of the crossbar and over the line for his fourth goal of the season – and second against Southend.
The Shrimpers needed a response but Wanderers did superbly to see themselves through to the break with no dramas, and they almost found a second goal to kill the game off when Aaron Holloway powered his way through the defence only to be denied by a fine tackle in the box.
The second period of extra time followed a similar pattern but there was a crucial twist in the dying seconds when Joe Pigott steered home from Barry Corr’s knockdown to take the tie to penalties.
Alex Lynch saved an early spot-kick but Matt Bloomfield and Sam Wood were denied by Dan Bentley, ensuring it is Southend United who will take their place in Sky Bet League 1.