WEMBLEY beckons for Gary Rowett’s Burton Albion braves after they beat Southend to reach the League Two play-off final.
The Brewers drew 2-2 at Roots Hall on Saturday, beating the Seasiders 3-2 on aggregate to meet Fleetwood at the home of football.
Rowett was bursting with pride after battling Burton showed all their heart and team spirit to get through.
“To show the character we did sums up our season,” he said. “We haven’t got as much quality at times as other teams in this division and we haven’t got the players because we can’t buy some of the players other teams do.
“But I would say we’ve got as much heart as any other team in the division and we showed that today.”
Albion have overcome the odds in beating Southend in the midst of an injury crisis and Rowett says it is a triumph in the face of adversity.
“You can sum it up with the last two or three weeks,” he said. “We’ve had six or seven injuries to deal with and have lost five or six players that would possibly be in the first XI.
“We’ve lost Ian Sharps to a poor red card, we lost Zeli Ismail to injury, who has been very, very good for us.
“You couldn’t really write it - yesterday the team bus broke down before we set off!
“Honestly, I couldn’t tell you the things we’ve had to go through in the last two weeks.
“Sometimes, as they say, out of adversity comes triumph and I think we’ve used that as much as we could.
“The likes of Phil Edwards was playing on one leg really for the last 45 minutes. He was brave as a lion.
“They deserve a shot at Wembley and I’m really pleased for them.”
Burton led 1-0 from the first leg after Adam McGurk’s goal at the Pirelli.
Marcus Holness opened the scoring at Roots Hall before Ryan Leonard and Anthony Straker made it 2-1 to Southend before half-time.
McGurk then scored the goal to give Albion a 2-2 draw and the tie at 3-2.
The result takes the Brewers a step further than last season, when they went out to Bradford 5-4 on aggregate - and Rowett says the hurt drove his side on.
“We’ve had two seasons of continued success and that’s what we want,” said the manager. “The big factor at the end of last season was to use the pain and the disappointment positively.
“We’ve done that and gone one stage further.
“Yes, it’s a day out for the fans and everyone associated with the club, but ultimately it’s about going there and trying to win the game.
“I’m proud now because it’s the culmination of lots of games - that’s the key for me.
“I’m not proud because of anything I want to achieve, I’m proud for the group.
“You just feel elated for the lads.
“Kev (Summerfield, assistant manager) and I are just exhausted - the lads are bouncing about with the champagne.
“Give me a glass of red wine, let me sit down for a little bit and I’ll be okay in about two hours!”
For Holness, his goal and getting to Wembley seals a great turnaround in his fortunes after his mistake against Bradford a year ago.
Rowett was delighted for the hard-working, professional centre-half - and says he has rare qualities.
“We’ve said it before, the likes of Sharpsy and Shane (Cansdell-Sherriff) have been our first choice pairing, but Bob’s (Holness) come in and been absolutely magnificent.
“I’ve not spoken to him about (a contract for) next year, so he’s unsure about what’s happening.
“But you know, players like that you can’t find, you can’t find that sort of character and desire.
“I have to say they’ve all been magnificent.
“Bob and Phil were both struggling towards the end but they just got through it because it means so much to them.”
McGurk also showed he is the man for a big game with another crucial goal.
Rowett says the Northern Irishman has done himself no harm in his dream of getting into the Championship.
“We’re a team of misfits, if you like, who haven’t quite made it at certain places and not quite done what they think they could’ve done and that’s to a certain degree is what League Two is all about,” he said.
“We give them a platform to go and show off and Gurks, I said it to him, if you can achieve something with us and it means you can sail off into the sunset like (Jacques) Maghoma and (Calvin) Zola and go and play in the Championship, I’d be delighted for you.
“We know we’re not going to end up in the Premier League, so we don’t mind being a place where people come as a stepping stone for their careers.
“As long as they show commitment, desire and drive when they’re here, that’s fantastic and I’m pleased for Adam and all the players.
“They’re terrific - the likes of Chris Hussey, who’s been out on loan and perhaps saw his future elsewhere.
“Again, he was man of the match today and showed fantastic character.
“These are the moments that you play football for, and coach and manage for, not necessarily the achievements, but for that feeling in the dressing room when you’ve done something.
“Whether that’s a small thing like getting through to Wembley, so be it, but it’s a big thing for us and we’ll certainly savour the moment.”