Manager Michael Flynn couldn’t contain his pride towards his Newport County AFC players after they defied all odds to get through to the League Two play-off final after a penalty shootout success at Mansfield Town.
After a 1-1 draw at Rodney Parade on Thursday in the first leg, neither side could break the deadlock at The One Call Stadium leaving penalties to decide who would be heading to Wembley.
Stags frontman Tyler Walker missed his sides third penalty and County made no mistake from their five spot kicks to ensure it would be them keeping the season going until the showpiece event on May 25th.
The game itself in Nottinghamshire was absolutely superb as both sides gave everything to the cause in one of the best 0-0 draws you will ever see.
Including extra time, it was 120 minutes of scintillating football which included County hitting the crossbar on three occasions – Scot Bennett taking aim from 40 yards and coming mighty close, Joss Labadie powering a header against it and Ben Turner turning a cross back towards his own goal.
Hero from Thursday’s fixture, Stags goalkeeper Conrad Logan also pulled off a magnificent save to deny a curling attempt from Sheehan, while Padraig Amond hit the side netting from close range.
At the other end, Mansfield couldn’t create as many gilt-edged opportunities in-front of their own supporters but still had their chances, mostly in extra time.
CJ Hamilton and Walker both should have done better when found free inside the penalty area, while Walker and Danny Rose both flashed headers wide when they should have been on target.
Such was the vigour, heart and desire shown across the two legs that either side would have been worthy of a spot at Wembley, but it was County’s night in Nottinghamshire in a 5-3 penalty shootout success.
“It’s a fantastic achievement what these players have gone and done,” Flynn affirmed.
“Look, what an amazing achievement. I thought we were absolutely excellent. We were superb and should have gone 3-0 up in the first half.
“Second half they came into it a bit more and had a few chances of their own.
“Extra time was then like a basketball game – end to end. For the neutral, it must have been brilliant.
“It’s an unbelievable achievement and I cannot praise these players and my staff enough. They have been absolutely superb.
“We’ve had a lot of challenges, but we have a board who support us as best they can, and we have a fantastic group of supporters who have been there through thick and thin.
“For me, this is for them.”
A penalty shootout can send nerves jangling, people can’t watch, but it appears Flynn was the calmest man in the stadium such were his post-match comments.
“I was all right,” he confirmed.
“It’s one of those situations where what will be will be – I had full faith in my players.
“We went through the list, I asked them what position they wanted to take the penalties in and every single one got the position they wanted to take them in. Every single one of them scored.
“I’ve just told Joe Day it was about time he saved a penalty and he saved the best until last.
“Joe was fantastic, he made a couple of really good saves as well, even the ones which don’t look spectacular because there was bodies in his eyeline, and he’s been a rock for this team.”
A critical moment ahead of the shootout was that Mark O’Brien won the coin toss and therefore chose for the penalties to be taken in-front of the away end.
That in itself was packed with 1,118 vocal County supporters and Flynn was more than happy to praise their efforts for an arduous Sunday evening round trip.
He stated: “They were brilliant. They did not stop; they were loud, and you could hear it towards the end of the first half where the Mansfield fans went so quiet.
“Our fans made it sound like we were the home team at one point so that’s a massive, massive credit to them.
“To be fair, the Mansfield fans were very loud second half and got right behind their team. There’s a lot of class supporters here at Mansfield because a lot of them stayed behind to clap us.
“I think that goes a long way.”
It now means County have set up the showpiece event at Wembley where they will meet either Forest Green Rovers or Tranmere Rovers, who play their second leg later this evening.
Regardless of who the opposition is, it will be County’s 62nd competitive fixture this season and fourth trip to Wembley since 2012.
He confirmed: “Myself and my assistant Wayne Hatswell will go down to [Forest Green v Tranmere] and see who we’re playing in the final.
“Whoever deserves to be in the final will be who we play. They’re both very good teams in different ways.
“I’ve just told the players it’s a challenge now. In 13 days’ time, do we want to be Newport County AFC in League One?
“It’s unbelievable – we’d never been before and now it’s four times in seven years.
“That won’t help us in the final, however. I don’t really care about that as long as we win.”
NEXT UP | It’s the big one – the League Two play-off final at Wembley on May 25th. Stay tuned to all club channels for news of tickets to the showpiece event.