Newport County 0-1 Tranmere Rovers Six Things: Super White Army secure back-to-back Play-Off promotions

Scott Davies and Steve McNulty lift the trophy –

Tranmere Rovers have secured back-to-back promotions thanks to Connor Jennings’ 119th-minute header, which gave them a 1-0 victory over Newport County in the League Two Play-Off Final. Here’s our Six Things from the game.

Newport’s energy

Newport began with a 4-4-2 shape, rather than the 3-5-2 their starting XI is also capable of, which showed their attacking intentions as Padraig Amond pressed with tenacity – Jamille Matt headed wide from a Mickey Demetriou long throw within the first minute. Although Newport’s desire was there – and Josh Sheehan switched play well in midfield – the final product was perhaps hit and miss. Scot Bennett and Joss Labadie blazed well over rather optimistic efforts from distance, before Amond nodded wide from Willmott’s delivery from deep. Tranmere midfielder Ollie Banks did a selfless job of staying between the ball and Matt, who needed to be well-shepherded by the athletic Manny Monthe. At the other end, Tranmere had shorter spells of pressure but looked more of a threat during those periods.

Norwood’s threat

James Norwood forced the best moment of the game, when Jay Harris led a counter-attack he fed the rampaging Jake Caprice; Norwood then showed the intelligence to peel away from the Newport centre-backs and ram Caprice’s tilted cross goalward, but Joe Day showed wonderful reactions to keep him out. There were also first half signs of Norwood and Jennings’ telepathic relationship coming to fruition, because the duo’s respective movements looked perfectly in sync; the latter blazed over after Newport’s defence failed to clear the former’s cross.

Two best goalkeepers

The two best goalkeepers in 2018-19 League Two were arguably on the Wembley turf. We saw Day’s save from Norwood in the first half, but on 73 minutes, a well-flighted deep cross from impressive wing-back Dan Butler was headed goalward at the back-post by Matt, forcing Davies into a wonderful reflex save from point-blank range. The Rovers stopper had had to make just two saves from two tame efforts before that point, which shows he had that ability to remain alert even while untested to come up trumps when it mattered. The game also delivered a high standard of defending, with Newport’s Demetriou and Tranmere’s Monthe both commanding at centre-back for their respective sides, which would explain a low volume of chances from open play.

Late controversy

There were appeals for a penalty on 85 minutes when Matt was allegedly fouled by Monthe, but they were waved away due to offside. Newport might feel aggrieved – but they had also been fortunate to escape the concession of a penalty after Butler’s foul on Norwood. Rather, the real game-changer was Mark O’Brien’s late sending off, which gave Tranmere a huge advantage going into extra time and so it ultimately proved. Jake Caprice produced his first pin-point cross of the game for Connor Jennings, so often the selfless assister, to head home at the back-post to spark jubilant scenes. Substitute centre-back Steve McNulty – possibly playing in his last game for Tranmere – showed great aerial prowess to help Rovers over the line for the final two minutes as Tranmere secured promotion to League One, consigning Newport to a seventh consecutive season in the same division.

Newport pride in defeat

It was cruel on County, who have done the EFL proud this season. Despite having reportedly a bottom three budget, they have found ways of getting marginal gains over their opponents; long throw specialism, commitment to perfecting set pieces, battling for every ball and finding motivational edges, thanks in no small way to their wonderful manager, Michael Flynn. They have been an inspiration to every club in a similar boat, proving you do not need to be massively rich to have a massively positive impact on English football. That is the message, rather than disappointment of defeat, that we hope they will take to heart on their journey home.

Back-to-back promotions for Tranmere

Tranmere deserve huge credit for their triumph. After promotion from the National League last season, some anticipated a season of consolidation but the club, who have tasted second-tier action in the not too distant past, have shown creditable drive to deliver a campaign that befits their status within the English game. Norwood’s form caught fire early on and the striker’s quality from around the edge of the box has been huge for Rovers.