Tranmere Rovers sealed promotion to League One courtesy of a last-gasp 1-0 win over Newport County in the League Two playoff final at Wembley on Saturday.
James Norwood produced the first noteworthy contribution for Tranmere in a first half in which both sides struggled to hit their stride, as the striker connected fiercely with a volley inside the Newport area, with Joe Day showing fine reflexes to stop the powerful drive.
The second half was similarly short on cutting edge and telling quality in the final third from either side, but it was Newport who carved out the next big chance in the game, as Scott Davies was forced into a point-blank save to deny a close-range header from Jamille Matt.
Newport were denied a strong penalty appeal late on, with Matt involved once again. The Exiles forward appeared to be brought down in the area, but the referee instead gave offside. The drama continued just moments later as Newport’s Mark O’Brien was sent off for a second yellow card, as the game headed into extra time.
The game appeared to be drifting towards penalties as both sides looked weary in extra time, but Tranmere finally found another gear in the final minute as Jake Caprice delivered a fine ball into the box, which was headed home by Connor Jennings to finally break the deadlock and deliver back-to-back promotions for Tranmere.
Key Talking Point
Tranmere were the superior side in terms of possession and passing the ball with precision, but Newport posed a clear threat with good crossing of the ball and an aerial threat in the penalty area key strong points for Michael Flynn’s side.
The Exiles looked like troubling Tranmere every time they managed to get a delivery into the box, though they struggled to find the finishing touch to capitalise on their clear physical advantage over the opposition.
Newport’s physical threat continued to pose problems for Tranmere throughout the game, with Jamille Matt, in particular, giving Rovers’ defence plenty to think about in the second half.
Flynn’s side were unlucky to see some big decisions go against them after the interval, but Newport lacked the required quality to make their clear attacking threat in the game really count.
Starting XI: Day (7); Poole (6), O’Brien (5), Demetriou (6), Butler (7); Willmott (6), Bennett (6), Sheehan (5); Labadie (6); Matt (6), Amond (5)
Substitutes: Dolan (6), Bakinson (5), Azeez (5), Marsh-Brown (N/A)
STAR MAN – In a clear sign of the evolution of modern football throughout the EFL, it was left back Dan Butler who provided the most consistently effective attacking outlet for Newport, with a flurry of driving runs down the left flank which were generally rounded off with fine deliveries.
Newport are a side which clearly thrives off deliveries into the box and attacking the opposition in the air, and Butler’s work in the wide areas is as much a key part of that approach as any in the attacking ranks of the Exiles. The defender worked tirelessly and had the quality to match his application levels.
Key Talking Point
Whereas Newport’s biggest offensive asset is their threat in the air, the link-up play and movement between Connor Jennings and James Norwood is the key attacking weapon for Micky Mellon’s side.
Norwood in particular looked to have the beating of Newport’s defence every time Rovers broke forward, with Michael Flynn’s team often appearing static at the back and slow to read the danger, but Tranmere struggled to capitalise on the clear threat they posed to the opposition.
Despite some swift moves on the counter attack, Norwood cut a frustrated figure all too often as his teammates were often too slow in transition in failing to pick out his darting runs. That generally enabled Newport too much time to get back and defend the open spaces, nullifying the threat of Tranmere’s danger man.
Tranmere continued to struggle to carve out any clear-cut chances as energy levels dropped in both sides and a lack of quality in the final third became an increasingly defining trait of a close-fought game at Wembley, though Rovers finally produced a big moment at the death.
Starting XI: Davies (7); Caprice (7), Nelson (6), Monthe (7), Ridehalgh (6); Banks (7); Morris (6), Harris (5), Perkins (6), Jennings (7); Norwood (7*)
Substitutes: Pringle (6), McNulty (5), Buxton (N/A)
STAR MAN – Tranmere struggled to find any real fluidity in their passing game on Saturday, but James Norwood was the focal point of everything that Micky Mellon’s side did well going forward, as his tireless running and effective movement gave Newport’s defence a real problem.
The forward was often let down by a lack of consistent service from his teammates, but Norwood never gave up the cause and carried the fight to the opposition for his side throughout the game with tremendous work rate.