A goal from Connor Jennings, scored in the final moments of extra time ensured Tranmere Rovers will take their place in League One next season after securing successive play-off final victories.
It took until the 119th minute for Micky Mellon’s side to kill off the resistance of a spirited Newport County side who played the additional 30 minutes with 10 men following the dismissal of Mark O’Brien, their captain, in the last minute of normal time after the midfielder collected a second yellow card.
Promotion means Tranmere will return to the third tier after a five-year absence, three of which were spent outside the Football League before last season’s National League play-off final victory over Boreham Wood.
Mellon, the Tranmere manager, saluted his players’ determination and singled Jennings out for praise for the way he has handled himself following a family bereavement.
“I’m so pleased for him,” said Mellon. “I don’t want to get all romantic and all emotional but he has had a tough couple of weeks. He has lost his grandad. We didn’t even know, he just went out and played against Forest Green.
“We kind of knew something was up with him because he wasn’t himself but he wasn’t looking for any excuses and we found out later his grandad had died that day. He’s a real tough cookie and he has a fantastic family. A story like that is what football is all about, and he goes and gets the winner.”
Newport’s frustration was compounded by what Michael Flynn was convinced was a clear penalty when Jamille Matt went down under a challenge from Manny Monthe, the Tranmere defender, in the 85th minute, prompting the Newport manager to question the decision not to use VAR in a game of this significance.
“It’s frustrating, there wasn’t much in the game at all,” said Flynn. “It was a good game but poor in the final third from both teams. I want to congratulate Tranmere first before I go on and say what I’m going to say. We’re at the home of football, Wembley, got all the VAR equipment, you’ve got referees who are full-time referees and a big decision today absolutely killed us.
“It’s a stonewall penalty and I cannot believe it wasn’t given, so that’s my frustration. We’ve seen a replay, it was 100 per cent a penalty. He said it was a touch but it wasn’t enough. It’s a very poor decision. It’s a play-off final and with these improvements, you can’t get big decisions like that wrong. It’s not a Mickey Mouse game and I hope they bring VAR in for the next couple of games because you don’t want big decisions going against teams and costing them promotion.”
Joe Day, the Newport goalkeeper, saved superbly from James Norwood’s first half volley before Scott Davies matched his efforts in the second half to deny Matt. The decisive moment, though, came when Jennings met Jake Caprice’s cross in the 119th minute.
Newport County (3-5-2) Day; Poole, O’Brien, Demetriou; Willmott (Marsh-Brown 106), Bennett, Sheehan (Bakinson 91), Labadie (Dolan 72), Butler; Matt (Azeez 103), Amond.
Substitutes Pipe, Crofts, McKirdy. Booked Matt, O’Brien, Pool. Sent off O’Brien.
Tranmere Rovers (4-2-3-1) Davies; Caprice, Nelson (Buxton 115), Monthe, Ridehalgh, Banks, Perkins; Morris (McNulty 82,), Harris (Pringle 53,), Jennings; Norwood.
Substitutes Pilling (g), Dagnall, Mullin, Gilmour. Booked Perkins.
Referee Ross Joyce (Cleveland).
Tranmere Rovers are promoted to League One
Huge credit must go to Newport, who were probably the better side over 90 minutes and put up an incredible fight with 10 men. They were but a minute away from taking it to penalties, but in the end Tranmere had the pure desire to steal it at the end. They deserve it after everything they've been through.
Full time! Newport 0 Tranmere 1
That's it, and Tranmere Rovers are heading to League One! Connor Jennings is the hero. It was a long road back for this old, storied club, but they have done it, and they've done it quickly at that.
ET 30+2 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 1
We're in the final minute of added time in extra time, and Tranmere are moments away from securing back-to-back promotions, after being in the Conference just two seasons ago. Mike Dean is beside himself with jubilation.
Goal! Newport 0 Tranmere 1
It's heartbreak for Newport, but joy for Tranmere! That is surely the winner, in the final minute of extra time! Caprice, the right-back, plays in a sublime ball from the right, and Connor Jennings steals in unmarked, heading back across goal and into the back of the net! Pandemonium in the stands.
ET 28 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance!Tranmere are pushing, but they can't create that clear cut chance they're so crying out for. Banks puts a cross in for Norwood who gets his head on it at the near post, but the angle is too tight and Day saves easily.
ET 25 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Marsh-Brown has been the danger man for Newport since coming on. He fizzes in another low strike but once again Davies is equal to it, and saves comfortably. These moments are few and far between for the Welshman, though, as Tranmere continue to control the possession. Just over five minutes left until penalties...
ET 21 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! A speculative one, but when Ollie Banks shoots from range there's always a chance it flies in. This one is rising and rising, though, and isn't all that close to troubling Day in the end.
ET 18 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Another great chance, this time up the other end. Norwood has it in a bit of space and takes a shot at Day's goal, but Butler - who's had a brilliant game - does really well to get a foot on it. This is exhausting to even watch, let alone play 120 minutes in searing (English, admittedly) heat.
ET 16 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Marsh-Brown immediately makes an impact. He has the ball on the right edge of the area and it looks as if he will cross, but instead he powers a strong shot low towards the near post. Davies does well to get down and save, pushing it behind for a corner which comes to nothing.
Second half of extra-time underway! Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's another Newport change, this time with Keanu Marsh-Brown replacing Willmott out wide. The men in amber kick off this final period. Now is the time to write your name in club filklor. Who fancies it?
Half-time in extra time - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
New ort have clung on for the first 15, and are just quarter of an hour away from levelling the playing field and forcing a penalty shootout. You can feel the tension permeating through the ground now. The fans are edgy and desperate. This is what play-off football is all about.
ET 13 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Newport substitution: Azeez on for Matt. Newport are pinned back in their own half and can't get ahold of the ball here, let alone mount an attack. They respond by bringing on Ade Azeez, who is often dangerous from the bench. Jamille Matt makes way after putting in a good shift.
ET 10 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Norwood runs off the shoulder again, he's brought down again, this time by Demetriou, but this time the ref says no foul. It definitely could have been too, looking at the replay. Norwood's having a frustrating afternoon, but he's still caused a bunch of problems.
ET 9 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Tranmere, unsurprisingly, are dominating possession, but are yet to make the extra player count in terms of forging any chances. Credit to Michael Flynn for sticking with two up top for Newport, but they aren't seeing a lot of the ball right now.
ET 5 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Unlike in regular time, it's been a quiet start to the first half of this extra period, as the TV shows us a shot of O'Brien watching on a screen from the dressing room. So tough for the captain, but the decision was fair.
Extra time underway! Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Tyreeq Bakinson is on to replace Josh Sheehan to shore up the Newport midfield, and we're underway for 30 more minutes at Wembley. Penalties await if neither side can break the deadlock, of course.
O'Brien sees red for Newport
Full time - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Newport make a couple of desperate attempts to win it late with Demetriou long throws, but Tranmere deal with them well, and it will be extra time in the League Two play-off final. Tranmere are now huge favourites with 30 minutes with the extra man in this heat, but stranger things have happened. This season, in fact.
90+2 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! It's a great run from Norwood who latches onto a bouncing through ball and bears down on goal. With Day rushing at him he can only direct a difficult chance wide of the upright, though. It would have taken a fabulous finish to score from there.
90 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
There will be five minutes of added time here. Five minutes for Tranmere to make their extra man count in normal time. Five minutes for Newport to produce a miracle. Who wants to be a hero?
88 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Red card! Mark O'Brien has been sent off for Newport! the captain takes out James Norwood as Tranmere attempt to break, and since he'd already been booked the ref had no option to send him for an early bath. That's a devastating blow for the Welshmen, who have a few more minutes to eek out before extra time.
85 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Penalty shout! Drama! So much drama! Jamille Matt goes down in the area and Newport are begging for a penalty, but the ref instead blows up for offside for the pass Matt makes as he goes down. He was definitely caught by Monte, but Matt has played the ball before being caught, so the offside is the right call. Fine, fine margins.
82 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Tranmere substitution: McNulty on for Morris. Steve McNulty, the former Liverpool youth product, is on for Tranmere. He replaces Morris on the right of midfield, and he's straight into the action, almost getting his head on a ball into the box.
79 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Matt makes some space on the edge of the area and slips a pass to Amond, who attempts to curl one low into the bottom corner with traffic in his way. It's an easy save for Davies. It feels like this game has been on the bring of exploding for the last 20 minutes. Just one magic moment is all it takes...
77 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Perkins booked. The veteran Tranmere midfielder picks up a yellow for a clumsy challenge.
73 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Great chance! That's the best opportunity of the game. It's Butler, the Newport left-back, who again has space to cross, and it's a wonderful ball in. Matt steams in at the far post and gets his diving header on target, but it's brilliant from Davies to scramble across and save after his whole defence had seemingly switched off. He actually palms it onto the post there, and still has the wherewithal to clear it away afterwards. Top work.
72 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Newport substitution: Dolan on for Labadie. Matty Dolan is replacing Joss Labadie in midfield for Newport. A straight swap and such much needed fresh legs with Tranmere taking control of the game.
68 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Penalty shout! Morris goes down in the Newport area and there are big shouts for a Tranmere penalty, but the ref says nothing doing. They're well on top now, though. Norwood drives downfield and feeds Jennings in the centre, but Newport just about manage to clear.
67 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
O'Brien booked. It's a yellow for the Newport captain after he clatters Jennings to the ground. That was probably as much for an accumulation of fouls, though. Tranmere are enjoying a little period of dominance here, and are especially making hay down the right-hand side.
65 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
If the sun was going to tire these players out we haven't seen it yet. This is still really frantic stuff, with adrenaline clearly trumping exhaustion with so much on the line. It's scrappy, for sure, but it's exciting.
61 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Tranmere have a free-kick in a dangerous position, and Liam Ridehalgh is stood over it. The left-back steps up but shoots right at the wall, and Newport clear.
59 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Tranmere look to get in behind Newport with a quick free-kick, but Demetriou is aware to the danger. The Welshmen take it back down the other end and a scuffed clearance falls to Joss Labadie, whose effort goes a few feet wide of the post.
57 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Pringle swings in a free-kick from the wide right and Day has to jump to tip it over the bar. It wasn't Pringle's intention to shoot, but that was headed for the top corner. Comfortable for the Newport keeper in the end, though.
55 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Matt booked. We have the first yellow card of the day, and it's a silly one. Jamille Matt blocks Scott Davies from taking a free kick inside the Tranmere area for no obvious reason. Hopefully that won't come back to haunt him...
53 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Tranmere substitution: Pringle on for Harris. Ben Pringle is being introduced in the centre of the park as Tranmere look to get a hold back of this game. Harris has barely been in it, truth be told. A sensible swap.
52 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Jamille Matt almost squeezes through the Tranmere defence but Nelson hurls himself into the tackle and gets it right. Just as well, if he's mistimed that it would have been a Newport penalty.
49 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Willmott charges right up the centre of the Wembley turf, with no one really close to him, before playing in Josh Sheehan. Sheehan, tojugh, is immediately swarmed by a plague of white shirts and his shot is comfortably blocked.
47 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Newport are finding a little more space in the early minutes of this second half. Left-back Butler puts in a dangerous cross which Davies has to punch away, as the men in amber carry their momentum over from the end of the first half.
Second half underway! Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's Tranmere to kick off the second half at Wembley. The first period is what you'd describe as a "good 0-0", but some goals in the next 45 would still be nice, wouldn't it?
Newport's Robbie Willmott takes a shot at goal
Half-time - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
So it's goalless at the break. Newport have probably had the better of the half, but it's Tranmere who have had the best chance, James Norwood's volley parried away by Joe Day with a great instinctive save.
45 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's so scrappy whenever Newport go forward. Tranmere are crowding them and they can't find the space they need to penetrate even on this big Wembley pitch. There will be one minute of added time at the half.
43 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Norwood is fuming, and he has reason to be. He makes a brilliant run through the middle, splitting the two centre-backs, but Perkins holds onto the ball when the pass was on, and lets the chance go begging. The Tranmere striker would have been clean through there, and he doesn't miss many opportunities like that. A waste.
42 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Newport continue to be on top but can't forge out a clear cut chance. They pressing and hurrying the tranmere defence, but so far the killer ball has eluded them. Matt and Amond only need a glimpse of goal, though...
38 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Mickey Demetriou's long throws could well be a factor in this game. He's already launched a few into the box and Tranmere struggle to deal with the latest. It ping pongs around the area before they eventually get a clearance in. Down the other end Perkins gets a shot on target, but tame is the only word you'd use to describe it.
36 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's a real back and forth, this one. The teams are trading short periods of dominance, with Newport the better side over the last five minutes or so. There are absolutely goals in this game, of there were until I said this. Now it's going to finish 0-0...
31 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! It's another opportunity for Newport. This time it's O'Brien, who's stayed upfield after a corner, who gets his head on a ball in from the left. He tries to nod it in the direction of Amond and there's a scramble in the box, but in the end no one can get a foot of it and it goes behind for a goal kick. Let off.
30 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Willmott and Amond have a nice little interchange and Willmott has a shot on goal, but there's no power behind it, and it's an easy save for Davies in the end.
29 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
We've got a brief drinks break at the halfway point of the first half, that's how hot it is at Wembley today. We're back underway now with a Newport goal kick.
25 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
What a chance! Caprice, the Tranmere right-back, is dangerous down the flank and gets a great ball into the box for James Norwood. Norwood does really well to catch it on the volley at a difficult height and still hit the target with a powerful strike, but Day's reactions match it to keep Newport at 0-0. Norwood's shot was pretty much straight at him, but that still goes down as a good save from Day.
23 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's settled down a little, as it probably had to, with the teams looking as evenly matched as we'd hoped. The playing styles are quite different, with Tranmere looking to be direct and penetrate with pace, while Newport are desperate to make use of those wide areas and put balls into the box.
19 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Newport enjoy a really nice period of possession which comes to nothing, but has helped them get a hold back on this game. They're almost moving to a back three when they have the ball, making use of the wide areas and the much larger pitch here at Wembley.
16 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Tranmere have settled into the game better, but Newport are still threatening on the break. Scot Bennett blazes a shot well over the bar from range as the Rovers defence holds strong.
12 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Connor Jennings has started this game really well, and he's in the action again, finding the ball at his feet around 20 years from goal to the left of the area. He tries to bend one into the top corner but his radar is off, and the shot sails harmlessly over the bar. It's been a brilliant start here at Wembley, a game full of energy.
9 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Amond gets his head on a free-kick at the near post and it flashes dangerously across the face of goal. Jamille Matt tries to get a foot on it to direct it home but his outstretched leg can't make contact.
7 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Tranmere are already starting to look dangerous, and no surprise it's Norwood who's causing problems. He gets in down the right and fires a ball across the face of goal for Jennings. It's wonderful defending from the captain O'Brien, though, who slides in to deny what would have been a certain goal.
5 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
Chance! Connor Jennings attempts a shot from around 25 yards, but it takes a deflection and ends up safely in the arms of Newport keeper Joe Day.
5 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's a frantic start at Wembley, with both teams pushing forward and looking for that early goal. Matt and Amond are both involved for Newport, who have looked the more dangerous in these opening stages.
2 min - Newport 0 Tranmere 0
It's Newport with the first s=attack, as Jamille Matt gets his head on a long throw. He can't get any power or direction on it, though, and it bobbles harmlessly wide of the left upright.
After both the English and Welsh national anthems we're underway at a beautifully sunny Wembley. Tranmere in their white shirts and blue shorts going from right to left, Newport in their amber and black shooting left to right. It's Newport who kick off, let's go...
The teams are out...
Here come the two teams, Tranmere led by goalkeeper Scott Davies and Tranmere by Mark O'Brien. We're minutes away from kick-off now at Wembley. Will it be consecutive promotions for Tranmere or a first ever taste of League One football for Newport? It's time to find out...
Newport's own striking talent
It's not only Tranmere with firepower up front. Newport's Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond might be the most deadly strike force in League Two - they combined for 43 goals this season, and start together again today.
Given Newport's ability to win close games (they finished seventh despite having a goal difference of zero), just one chance for Matt or Amond could seal a historic day for the men from Wales.
The James Norwood factor
The Tranmere striker scored 30 league goals this season - the first time anyone has reached that mark since Tom Pope for Port Vale in 2012/13. He scored the winner in last year's National League play-off final, and is the man who could make the difference again today at Wembley. You can't take your eyes off No 10.
Michael Flynn's magical transformation
When Flynn took over as Newport boss in March 2017 they were 11 points from safety in League Two. He dragged them out of the mire, and now they're one game away from reaching the third-tier of English football for the first time since the 1986/87 season.
They haven't just reached the play-off final this season, of course, they also went on a stunning FA Cup run. They knocked out Leicester and Middlesbrough before falling to eventual champions Manchester City in the fifth round.
They're no strangers, then, to the big occasion. "It's not just a game of intelligence, patterns of play and philosophies, they've got to be able to handle the occasion as well," Flynn said of his players.
"There will be no stone left unturned. We'll be as prepared as we can be, this week has gone well so far, and we'll have them ready in peak condition for Saturday.
"We do our homework on every team we play, whether it's Tottenham Hotspur or Maidstone United."
Mike Dean, Tranmere super fan
Don't be surprised to see a few shots of Mike Dean in the crowd at Wembley today. The theatrical Premier League referee is a huge fan of the club, and stole a bit of his favourite team's thunder after the play-off semi-final, when he was captured on film celebrating wildly at the final whistle.
���� - MIKE DEAN AND TRANMERE ARE HEADING TO WEMBLEY!— Sky Sports Football (@SkyFootball) May 13, 2019
The Premier League referee cannot hide his excitement at The New Lawn as his side secure their place in the play-off final! �� pic.twitter.com/ZCrOur7xbn
Dean is never one to shy away from the spotlight - his flourishing red cards and over-eager penalty calls have become a thing of meme-worthy legend - and he was up on his seat leading the cheers as Tranmere secured yet another trip to the home of football.
His fellow fans love it - with several turning up today wearing Mike Dean masks. Yes, Mike Dean masks are a thing that really exist now. All eyes on the man in black if Tranmere secure promotion this afternoon, he might go on a bender which lasts until the start of next season...
Newport team news
Newport's team is out now too. Here's how they'll line up, with the big news being striker Jamille Matt is fit enough to start after early concerns he might be ruled out with a leg injury.
Tranmere team news
Tranmere have announced their line-up. It's a strong side for the slight favourites, who will be hoping for a masterclass from David Perkins in midfield.
The underdog final
Both Newport County and Tranmere Rovers upset set the odds to get here, but here they are - at Wembley - 90 minutes away from promotion to League One.
It's rare that the sixth and seventh-placed teams contest a play-off final - the last time it happened in League Two was the 2012/13 season. Tranmere knocked out fifth-place Forest Green Rovers to make the final - thanks in part to Forest Green getting a man sent off in each leg - while Newport beat fourth-placed Mansfield 5-3 on penalties after a pair of draws.
Today's setting is very familiar for Tranmere, this is their third play-off final in as many years, and manager Micky Mellon - proud owner of one of the best names in English football - is hoping that big game experience can see his team past the Welshmen.
"We are familiar there [at Wembley] now and there is less to concentrate on in terms of the environment, and it is as important as focusing on the game as that's all we can affect," he said.
Newport, on the other hand, are contesting their first play-off final since 1991, before many of their squad were even born.
Tranmere may hold the advantage of familiarity, but Newport have had their number in the Football League. The last time Tranmere beat them in a Football League meeting was in April 1988.
Newport won 1-0 at Prenton Park earlier this season, before Tranmere earned a 0-0 draw at Rodney Parade. There were also just two points between them in the final league standings, meaning we should be in for a close affair. Expect early nerves.
We're about an hour from kick-off, and should have team news with you very shortly...