Connor Jennings’ last minute header in extra time sealed Tranmere Rovers’ back-to-back promotion up to Sky Bet League One as they beat 10-man Newport County 1-0 in a dramatic Sky Bet League Two Play-Off Final at Wembley Stadium
In a goalless opening 90 minutes, chances fell for both sets of players, with a turning point coming in the stages of normal time when Newport had their captain Mark O’Brien sent off by referee Ross Joyce for bringing down James Norwood.
But as the Final looked to be decided by penalty kicks, up popped Jennings, who guided his close-range header beyond County goalkeeper Joe Day to seal promotion for Micky Mellon’s Wirral side.
Rovers’ first sight of goal came through Jennings inside four minutes, who received a pass from David Perkins to drive in space at the defence but saw his right-footed low strike caught by Day.
Shortly after, play dropped to Jennings again on the left though the midfielder could only bend his effort over Day’s crossbar.
Up the other end, Michael Flynn’s side went close when Robbie Willmott’s deep cross found Scot Bennett, though his header went wide of Scott Davies’ goal from eight yards.
Willmott then had a tame daisycutter effort from outside the box saved by Davies while Josh Sheehan sent an effort high and wide off target.
Top-scorer Norwood then went close to opening for scoring for Mellon’s men with 25 minutes on the clock, after being found by Jake Caprice’s cross from the right, the forward powered a right-footed volley from 12-yards which was beaten away by Day.
Perkins then drilled low right-footed from 18-yards which was gathered comfortably by Day prior to Norwood meeting Jay Harris’ right-sided cross in the box which he glanced over.
Following on from the restart, it was Michael Flynn’s Exiles who created the first notable opening of the second half, with Wilmott’s right-footed strike missing to Davies’ right-hand post.
On 56 minutes in the capital, Rovers’ substitute Ben Pringle forced Day to tip his deep free-kick from the right, which evaded every player in the box and needed the shot-stopper to palm away for a corner.
The two teams would trade opportunities, with Joss Labadie trying his luck for the Welsh outfit, striking rom the edge of the box, which he scuffed across goal.
With 67 minutes gone, Tranmere had claims for a penalty waved away by Joyce after ending up on the floor having been sandwiched by two Newport defenders.
As the half ticked onto 73 minutes, TRFC captain Davies came to Mellon’s men’s rescue, thwarting forward Jamille Matt from a matter of yards, superbly pushing his point-blank range free header onto the post after Dan Butler’s cross from the left found its way to the back post.
And Davies was called into action again with 10 minutes to play in the fixture under the Wembley Stadium arch, diving down low to his right to keep Amond’s low drive from right out.
In a tense affair, and with seven minutes of the Final to play, Jennings’ effort from the right-edge of the area went just beyond Day’s left-upright.
Newport were reduced to 10 men on 89 minutes when Liam Ridehalgh’s lofted pass was chased down by Norwood on the left flank, who was brought down on by O’Brien, a tackle which saw him pick up a second yellow card and his marching orders Joyce as a goalless 90 minutes forced 30 minutes of extra-time.
It took until the 13th minute of extra-time for there to be a clear-cut opportunity, with Davies dropping down to his left to deny Amond’s following a corner.
In the second half of extra-time, Davies kept out substitute Keanu Marsh-Brown’s low shot from a tight-angle.
Norwood was then inches from putting TRFC in front, driving down the right, holding off a challenge from Dan Butler before cutting inside and striking right-footed which was deflected across goal and behind for a corner before later testing Day into a low stop at his right-hand post after heading Ollie Banks’ cross.
And Tranmere won it in the final minute of extra-time when Jennings’ headed in from close-range at the back post following a Caprice’s cross from the right to earn Rovers a back-to-back promotion in dramatic circumstances.
Mellon’s players battled through the closing minutes of extra-time to seal a return to the third-tier for the first time since 2014.