Preston North End’s promotion dream ended with a 3-1 second leg defeat in their play-off clash against Rotherham United at New York Stadium.
Paul Gallagher’s fierce free-kick gave North End the lead but Rotherham fought back and sealed their place in the play-off final against Leyton Orient.
Two fizzing Ben Pringle crosses in three key first-half minutes allowed Wes Thomas and Lee Frecklington to head home for the host’s.
And North End where left deflated after Millers striker Kieran Agard powered home the third goal in the 67th minute after James Tavenier had skipped his way down the right wing and picked the hit-man out with a precision pass to seal the tie.
Lilywhites top scorer Joe Garner’s deflected shot and Jack King’s long range effort both crashed into the post but PNE could not pull a goal back as they failed for the ninth time in the play-offs.
Preston North End manager Simon Grayson made four changes to the PNE side that drew 1-1 at Deepdale in the first leg with Rotherham.
Neil Kilkenny returned from injury to replace Alan Browne in central midfield as the young Irishman was left out of the 17.
Kevin Davies replaced Craig Davies in the starting XI as Scott Wiseman and David Buchanan stepped in as wing backs in a 3-5-2 formation.
And Scott Laird and Lee Holmes joined Josh Brownhill on the bench.
PNE captain John Welsh smashed a Kevin Davies knock-down way over the Rotherham bar in the 10th minute.
And in an end-to-end opening Bailey Wright was booked for a challenge on Kieran Agard in the PNE half in the 11th minute.
But PNE seized the initiative and broke the deadlock in the 16th minute as Gallagher curled a fizzing free-kick over a sea of yellow and red shirts to nestle in the right hand corner. King powered in unmarked at the far post but didn’t touch the ball as it sailed straight in and gave North End an early advantage.
Up the other end Declan Rudd made a superb save from Kari Arnason after the Millers player rose above the pack to nod free header towards goal in the 18th minute.
But Rotherham nabbed an equaliser in the 24th minute from aPringle set piece. Wiseman fouled Alex Revell and Pringle fizzed the ball into the box for Thomas to nod home.
And the Millers could have taken the lead after Pringle whipped another sweet ball into the back post, goalscorer Thomas sprinted in but his first time effort flew over Rudd’s bar in the 31st minute.
And Frecklington put the Millers in front moments later as he latched on to another fierce Pringle cross to head the ball past Rudd in the 34th minute.
Garner attacked the ball in the Rotherham box seconds later but the striker could not keep his shot down as it flew to safety.
On the stroke of half-time Welsh stepped up to smash another effort towards goal. Rotherham keeper Collin looked to have the shot covered but the keeper nearly gifted North End an equaliser as he palmed the ball away and it trickled just wide of the post.
Davies was booked at the start of the second 45 as PNE tried to fight back.
The in-form Pringle smashed a shot towards goal in the 50th minute. But fortunately for PNE the midfielder’s shot crashed back off the cross bar and away from goal.
David Buchanan latched on to a loose ball in the Rotherham box in the 53rd minute but after the wing back had neatly cut back inside his shot trickled wide of the post.
Chris Humphrey replaced Wiseman in the 54th minute and he made an immediate impact. The Jamaica international spotted Garner in space on the left and picked the hit-man out but PNE’s top scorer smashed his first time shot over the bar.
Minutes later Buchanan appealed for a penalty but referee Keith Stroud waved away PNE’s claim.
PNE upped the tempo and launched a slick counter-attack in the 63rd minute. Tom Clarke headed the ball into the path of Humphrey on the right hand side and the substitute raced down the wing before whipping the ball into the path of Gallagher who smashed a free header wide of Collin’s left hand post.
But North End could not capitalise on their superior possession in the first 20 minutes of the second half and clinical Rotherham popped up in the 67th minute to score their third of the night.
James Tavernier skipped past Buchanan and Bailey Wright on the right wing before cutting the ball back across the six yard box and setting the ball up on a plate for Agard to power home.
And minutes later Rotherham play-maker Pringle curled the ball inches wide of Rudd’s right hand post.
But PNE fought back and King’s 30-yard deflected shot crashed into the left post but as the ball fizzed back into play North End could not pick up the loose ball.
Pringle fizzed another set-piece into the PNE box but Arnason’s header
Garner nearly pulled a goal back in the 81st minute but his deflected shot was tipped onto the right post as Collin dived to make a fine fingertip save.
Davies’ flying header flew wide in the closing stages of injury time and moments later the Rotherham fans invaded the pitch to celebrate a trip to Wembley on May 25.
PNE: Rudd, Clarke, Wright, King, Wiseman (Humphrey, 54) Buchanan, Welsh (Brownhill, 67), Kilkenny, Gallagher (Beavon, 77), K Davies, Garner. Subs: Stuckmann, Laird, Holmes, Keane.
Rotherham: Collin, Tavernier, Arnason, Morgan, Skarz, Agard, Frecklington (Milsom, 90), Smallwood, Pringle, Revell, Thomas (Vuckic, 87). Subs: Shearer, Davis, O’Connor, Rowe, Hitchcock.
Referee: Keith Stroud (Hampshire)