Report: League Two Play-Off Final
Tranmere Rovers secured their place in Sky Bet League One for the 2019/20 season after beating 10-man Newport County 1-0 in the most dramatic fashion at Wembley Stadium.
Following a goalless 90 minutes which saw Newport captain Mark O’Brien sent off for a second bookable offence, a header from Connor Jennings in the final minute of extra-time sparked scenes of jubilation from the ‘Super White Army’ and earned Tranmere a second promotion in as many years.
Having secured their place in the Play-Offs on the final day of the regular season, Newport made a real game of it, striking the post and defending superbly after having their skipper dismissed. Ultimately though, it was the side from The Wirral who were celebrating at Wembley.
Ahead of the game, Newport boss Michael Flynn named several familiar faces following a run of 12 unbeaten games, including the likes of strike duo Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond. Tranmere, meanwhile, were fronted by Golden Boot winner James Norwood.
In what was an open start to the Final, both sides looked to show their attacking prowess, but the first real opportunity didn’t arrive until the 25-minute mark, and it was no surprise that it fell at Norwood’s feet. The forward’s powerful volley was superbly saved by Joe Day.
At the other end, County too tried to break the deadlock, with Matt proving a handful for the Tranmere defence. The Welsh side had a couple of near misses without really testing Scott Davies, but were looking dangerous at times.
As the interval approached and with both sets of players toiling in the heat, Rovers midfielder David Perkins tried his luck from the edge of the area, but it proved a much more comfortable save for Day, whose clean sheet remained intact.
The second half began in the same vein as the first, with little to separate Newport and Tranmere. County flooded forward and had an effort through Josh Sheehan, but Sid Nelson was well placed to get himself in the way.
Eager to switch things up, Rovers boss Micky Mellon introduced experienced midfielder Ben Pringle and, just minutes later, he saw a free-kick tipped over the crossbar by Day. Tranmere were beginning to look the more likely.
Newport came back with attacks of their own though, as Matt found space on the edge of the box but saw a strike blocked with half an hour to go. Tranmere then looked to be in when the ball dropped for Jennings inside the area, but Butler timed his tackle to perfection.
With the clock ticking down, Matt Dolan – the man who fired Newport to Wembley from the spot – joined the action. Just seconds later, they came within inches of taking the lead, as Matt’s diving header was palmed onto the post by Davies and eventually cleared away.
With just six minutes of the 90 remaining, they struck the woodwork for a second time through Amond after good work from Matt – who appeared to be fouled in the build-up – though the linesman’s flag was up for offside.
There was still time for one more piece of drama in regular time, too – a moment which ultimately proved crucial. A second yellow card for O’Brien following an off-the-ball foul on Norwood meant County went into extra-time with 10 men.
Despite the man advantage, Tranmere found it difficult to break down a resolute Newport defence, with little in the way of chances during the first half of the additional 30 minutes.
Newport introduced Keanu Marsh-Brown from the bench for the second half of extra-time, and he didn’t waste any time in making an impressions, forcing Davies into a smart stop down low to his left. At the other end, Norwood threatened, but saw his effort deflect and bounce just wide.
Then, with the very final chance of the afternoon, Jennings kept his cool to head home and send the travelling fans into raptures. His was the goal which broke Newport hearts, after a proud display from the Amber Army, and the goal which earned Tranmere Rovers a second successive promotion.
Newport: Day, Poole, O’Brien, Demetriou, Butler, Bennett, Sheehan (Bakinson 91′), Labadie (Dolan 72′), Willmott (Marsh-Brown 105′), Amond, Matt (Azeez 102′).
Subs not used: Crofts, Pipe, McKirdy.
Booked: Matt, O’Brien, Poole
Sent off: O’Brien
Tranmere: Davies, Norwood, Monthe, Banks, Jennings, Nelson (Buxton 115′), Ridehalgh, Morris (McNulty 82′), Harris (Pringle 53′), Caprice, Perkins.
Subs not used: Pilling, Gilmour, Mullin, Dagnall.
Goals: Jennings (119′)