Cheltenham Town 0 Northampton Town 1
(Northampton win 2-0 on aggregate)
It will be a trip to Newport County and not Wolverhampton Wanderers for Cheltenham Town next season after their League Two promotion hopes came to an anti-climactic end.
The Robins suffered the agony of a play-off semi-final defeat for the first time as Northampton Town progressed to face Bradford City at Wembley.
Successful in all three of their previous last-four clashes, Marlon Pack's miss from the penalty spot after quarter of an hour proved so costly for Mark Yates’ side as they failed to score for the third match in succession.
Luke Guttridge's stunning strike put Northampton ahead at the Abbey Business Stadium and Aidy Boothroyd's abrasive team successful shut Cheltenham out to prevail 2-0 on aggregate.
In keeping with previous play-off team selections, Yates sprang a surprise by handing Darryl Duffy his first start since New Year's Day.
Last season's leading scorer had netted five goals against the Cobblers in three appearances over the past two seasons and he joined Paul Benson up front, with Byron Harrison dropped to the bench.
The only other change saw Sam Deering included at the expense of Kaid Mohamed on the left of midfield and Cheltenham made the rousing start they needed, pressing Northampton back in the opening minutes.
Steve Elliott nodded down a free-kick to Benson in the sixth minute and his shot on the turn was straight at Lee Nicholls, with backed by a noisy home crowd Cheltenham looked capable opening Northampton up.
Winger Jermaine McGlashan caused left-back Lee Collins problems, winning a succession of corner.
A goal looked likely and Cheltenham were presented with a golden chance to level the aggregate score in the 15th minute.
Skipper Russ Penn charged down an attempted clearance from Ben Tozer and controlled the ball as he entered the box.
Tozer hacked him down right on the edge and referee Andrew Madley pointed to the spot.
Pack, who had held his nerve to convert penalties at Bradford, Southend and Accrington earlier in the campaign, grabbed the ball confidently.
But he was denied an eighth goal of the season by Nicholls, who dived to his left and parried it away.
Duffy had a chance almost immediately that he cracked into the side-netting and Pack saw a long-range free-kick pushed away by Nicholls.
Elliott rose to meet the resulting corner, but his header was once again easy for Nicholls as some of the impetus began to slip away.
Roy O'Donovan, scorer of the only goal in Thursday's opening leg, saw a shot saved at the near post by Scott Brown in the seventh minute but that aside it had been all Cheltenham until Guttridge intervened.
He cracked in a volley from 25 yards which flew past Brown into stun the Robins fans and put Northampton firmly on course for Wembley.
Cheltenham will be hugely disappointed that the strike stemmed from their own throw-in, but it was a finish fit to win any game.
McGlashan saw one driven cross well caught by a diving Nicholls and at the other end Brown had to touch an attempted lob from Chris Hackett over the bar in the 37th minute as the Cobblers ended the first half two goals to the good on aggregate.
The period immediately after half-time were extremely frustrating, with Cheltenham working the ball into some promising positions, but failing to deliver an accurate enough final ball.
The fans called for Shaun Harrad to be sent on and the former Northampton man went on in place of Duffy just after an hour.
Nicholls remained untested early in the second half, with Pack directing a free-kick over the bar in the 67th minute as the agony built.
Hackett almost put the tie beyond all doubt in the 72nd minute, but Brown made a one-on-one block.
Mohamed rattled the bar with a header from Michael Hector’s cross in the 76th minute and Deering was denied by the excellent Nicholls, who nearly joined the Robins on loan last season.
There was a late push, but it was clearly not Cheltenham’s night and they must now prepare for a fifth successive season in the basement division.
CHELTENHAM TOWN: S Brown; K Lowe, M Hector, S Elliott, S Jombati; J McGlashan (K Mohamed 73), M Pack, R Penn (B Harrison 88), S Deering; D Duffy (S Harrad 62), P Benson. Subs not used: B Jones, D Carter, C Roberts, J Taylor.
NORTHAMPTON TOWN: L Nicholls; J Johnson, N Cameron, C Carlisle, L Collins; C Hackett, J Johnson, L Guttridge (L Hornby 75), B Tozer, B Harding, R O’Donovan; A Akinfenwa (K Langmead 72). Subs not used: I Demontagnac, C Platt, D Snedker, J Robinson, L Moult.
REFEREE: A Madley.
ATTENDANCE: 5,955 (1,546 away)
STAR MAN: Michael Hector.
Join Jon Palmer at the Abbey Business Stadium for chat, debate, team news, updates and reaction from the play-off semi-final second leg (6.45pm kick off):