Forest Green 4-3 Newport AET (Agg: 4-5): Michael Flynn’s County reach League Two play-off final

Newport reached the Sky Bet League Two play-off final after a 5-4 aggregate win against Forest Green in a pulsating, topsy-turvy semi-final second leg at The innocent New Lawn.

Two goals in less than a minute from Ebou Adams and Aaron Collins wiped out Newport’s first-leg lead early on, before Nicky Cadden’s free-kick gave the hosts the lead in the tie for the first time.

A stunner from 42-year-old Kevin Ellison then pulled County level again and though it looked as though Joss Labadie’s strike would send Michael Flynn’s men to Wembley, former Newport frontman Jamille Matt popped up in the 87th minute to send the tie to extra-time.

As the rainy conditions began to take their toll in the added 30-minute period, penalties looked to be looming, particularly after Nicky Maynard sent a free header wide of the right-hand post, but the veteran striker had the final say one minute from time, when he latched onto a long ball and slid past Rovers goalkeeper Luke McGee.

As a result, Newport will face Morecambe in the League Two play-off final on Monday, May 31, after Derek Adams’ men saw off Tranmere earlier on Sunday afternoon.

How Newport reached the League Two play-off final

In an interview with Sky Sports before kick-off, Forest Green chairman Dale Vince played down suggestions of an uphill battle, despite a 2-0 first-leg defeat at Rodney Parade on Tuesday night – and within 10 minutes of a wet and windy night in the Cotswolds, he was proved right.

Even though Newport sat tight to protect their aggregate lead in the opening exchanges, they were pegged back when Adams leapt well to meet a corner and glanced in a brilliant header.

Inside 60 seconds, the visitors were left shell-shocked as Collins – whose brother Lewis scored for Newport in the first leg – latched onto a sensational cross from Bailey Cargill and beat County goalkeeper Tom King with a first-time volley to match.

Newport battled back to dominate proceedings and went close when Mickey Demetriou nodded wide at the far post, though they were almost caught cold on the stroke of half-time when Collins’ shot was deflected onto the crossbar.

But that’s exactly what happened with 53 minutes on the clock, when Cadden lifted a free-kick high into the air that bypassed the crowd of bodies in the area, zipped off the surface inside the six-yard box and rippled the back of the net.

The drama didn’t abate there. Having been on the pitch a matter of minutes, Ellison – the oldest player to ever feature in the EFL play-offs – silenced the home crowd when he latched onto Demetriou’s knockdown 25 yards from goal, turned and curled an incredible effort into the top corner to level the tie on aggregate.

Four minutes later, fellow substitute Labadie swept in a cross from Ryan Haynes, but former Newport striker Matt – who made his first start since March 27 – forced the tie to extra-time when he struck from close range.

Questionable defending from Forest Green presented the unmarked Maynard with a chance to seal victory for the visitors, though he planted his header wide of the mark, before Josh Davison couldn’t quite apply the finish when Jayden Richardson smashed the ball across the six-yard box.

But Maynard redeemed himself in the 119th minute when he latched onto a long ball forward, touched the ball past McGee and then slid home a winner that was met by a deafening silence.

What’s next?

Newport progress to the Sky Bet League Two play-off final, which takes place at Wembley on Monday, May 31 at 3pm, while Forest Green will remain in the division for the 2021/22 season, which begins on Saturday, August 7.

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