Jamille Matt etched his name firmly into Newport County AFC folklore as his late equaliser dramatically sent the Exiles into the League Two play-offs with a 1-1 draw at Morecambe.
County were 10th heading into the dying embers of proceedings but Exeter City’s failure to win at Forest Green Rovers meant they only needed one goal and Matt brought up 20 for the season with arguably the most important goal of the season so far.
Dan Butler’s floated delivery in the 87th minute caused mayhem in the area, the ball sprung out from a group of players and drifted along the goal line where Matt had already sniffed out the chance and tapped home to cause bedlam amongst the 871 away supporters.
Joe Day must also take massive credit for getting the Exiles into the post-season as he pulled off three remarkable saves at 1-0 down to keep County in the game.
Mansfield Town await in those play-offs with the first leg on Thursday night then the return in Nottinghamshire on Sunday at 6pm.
One-word sums all this up. WOW!
Manager Michael Flynn understandably kept with the same team that ascended into the top-seven for the first time since just before Christmas with a commanding 2-0 victory over Oldham Athletic on Tuesday.
That meant the Exiles maintained the 4-4-2 formation which worked to such beneficial effect at Rodney Parade against the Latics with formidable duo Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond up-front.
Morecambe manager Jim Bentley made one change to his side which performed remarkably again this season to stay in the Football League with one of the smallest budgets in the entire division.
Piero Mingoia dropped to the bench in place of Carlos Mendes-Gomes as the Shrimps elected to make a tactical alteration into more of a 4-3-1-2 formation as ex-Exile Aaron Collins and Vadaine Oliver started up-front.
This was always going to be a day of twists and turns – Flynn has made no secret that the Exiles ‘never do things easy’ – and they were staring heartache in the face as half-time when trailing the Shrimps.
The as-live table really wasn’t County’s friend in that opening half, and they headed back to the dressing room in ninth thanks to Exeter City drawing at Forest Green Rovers and Colchester United up by three at the champions Lincoln City.
The opening goal of the game came in the 20th minute as Aaron Collins came back to haunt his former employers. Paul McKay launched the long ball over Mark O’Brien into the area and Collins made no mistake after taking a touch.
Heading into the game, County had kept seven clean sheets from the previous nine games, and they were excellent defensively in the first-half excluding that one moment which Morecambe took advantage of.
The Shrimps were also resolute at the back up until half-time and County only really had one major chance to equalise.
On 44 minutes, O’Brien flicked on a long free-kick into the penalty area which presented itself to Josh Sheehan, he saw his shot saved by Mark Halstead then hit the goalkeeper with the second shot and remarkably the third was saved as well.
Regan Poole and Dan Butler both sent shots over the top while Matty Dolan forced a smart save from Halstead on the volley following a corner-kick.
Such was the need for goals from the Exiles that Ade Azeez came on for Dolan, County matching Morecambe for the final half hour in the 4-3-1-2 formation, and the game became a lot more open.
That gave Morecambe the license to create more opportunities, they looked like a real united team and unfortunate to be where they are in the league, but they couldn’t put County to bed.
Collins was denied adding to his tally twice by unbelievable saves from Day in the 65th and 67th minutes which were vital for the Exiles.
Day has saved County numerous points this season, almost impossible to count, but these outstanding ones could be the most important of the lot as he kept the Exiles in the game and with a chance to get back into the top-seven.
Amond, Demetriou and Bennett were all denied with headers as County pushed everything forward.
But this team does not give up, they refuse to be kept down, and the McFadden and Whitehead song ‘Aint No Stopping Us Now’ was blasting in the dressing room post-match because of Matt’s divine intervention.
Butler’s delivery caused chaos in the area but Matt was alive and watching the ball and he tapped in from close range to cause scenes amongst the County supporters akin to The Great Escape.
All wasn’t done at that point, however, as four minutes of additional time still had to be navigated.
Even when the whistle went in Lancashire, Exeter still had two minutes to get a matchwinner at Forest Green, but they couldn’t and County were confirmed as seventh.
Cue more joyous scenes in the away side. Unbelievable character, sheer resistance and amazing fight.
This team just does not give in. Next stop: THE PLAY-OFFS!!!!!
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Day, Butler, O’Brien, Demetriou, Poole (McKirdy 74’), Dolan (Azeez 59’), Sheehan (Marsh-Brown 86’), Bennett, Willmott, Amond, Matt
Subs not used: Pipe, Bakinson, Crofts
Morecambe (4-3-1-2): Halstead, Sutton, Lavelle (C), Old, Conlan, McKay (Mingoia 78’), Fleming, Cranston, Mendes-Gomes (Mandeville 45’), Collins, Oliver (Ellison 80’)
Subs not used: Roche, Kenyon, Bennett, Hedley
Referee: Neil Hair
Attendance: 2,776 (871 AWAY)
Next up for County: THE PLAY-OFFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!