Newport County AFC will be looking to reach the third tier for the first time since 1986/87 when they contest the League Two play-off final against Tranmere Rovers on Saturday. The Exiles head into the showpiece at Wembley on a 12-game unbeaten run, while Micky Mellon’s side have experience of play-off football having been in them in each of the last three seasons.
Here, you can find all the facts and statistics ahead of this season’s League Two play-off final…
How Tranmere Rovers made it to Wembley Stadium
Tranmere Rovers have been consistent all season and spent long periods of the campaign within the top seven in what is their inaugural season back in the Football League after another play-off triumph last season.
In the top half since early October, The Super White Army were a late contender for the automatic promotion spots after winning seven on the trot through February and March, but a defeat at Oldham Athletic followed by a draw with County basically curtailed those hopes and consigned them to the play-offs.
Finishing in sixth positions, Tranmere were just a point behind Forest Green Rovers so had to host the Green Devils in the first leg on 10th May. Rovers midfielder Gavin Gunning saw red early on, but Tranmere could only get themselves a one goal advantage through an absolute stunner from Ollie Banks.
That put the tie on a knife-edge ahead of the reverse fixture in Nailsworth three days later but another dismissal for Mark Cooper’s side saw Tranmere secure a safe passage through to the final. Joseph Mills had initially caused concern when levelling the tie on aggregate, but former Rovers striker James Norwood saw to those fears with a fine volley to send them through.
Just like the Exiles, Tranmere Rovers don't appear to have any fresh injury concerns for the showpiece play-off final at Wembley Stadium.
Manager Micky Mellon has kept to a similar team where possible virtually all season and it is expected that he will name an unchanged team from the one that started the second leg against Forest Green Rovers.
Tranmere Rovers team vs Forest Green Rovers (4-1-4-1): Davies, Caprice, Nelson, Monthe, Ridehalgh, Banks, Morris, Harris, Perkins, Jennings, Norwood
One to Watch – James Norwood
It would be somewhat silly to pick anyone else for the ‘One to Watch’ tag than League Two’s Player of the Year and the man that scored the goal which took Tranmere Rovers to Wembley, perennial goal scorer James Norwood.
His equaliser away at former club Forest Green Rovers last Monday edged Tranmere back in-front of the play-off semi-final tie and the scoreline didn’t change from there as Norwood’s 32nd goal from 52 matches turned out to be his most important.
Overall, Norwood will face County at Wembley Stadium having scored 92 goals from 188 appearances since joining The Super White Army in the summer of 2015.
Before making the move to Merseyside, Norwood had a slow start to his career when failing to hold down a starting spot at Exeter City and spending time on loan at Sutton United, Eastbourne Borough and Forest Green Rovers.
He joined Rovers on a permanent deal in 2011 and finally found a rhythm to his game during the four years he spent there before moving to Tranmere. England ‘C’ capped him on seven occasions during the four years he spent in Nailsworth, grabbing 51 goals in the process across the loan and permanent stint.
Manager – Micky Mellon
Remarkably, Tranmere Rovers manager Micky Mellon has been in charge of The Super White Army for three seasons and they have reached the play-off final in every single one of those campaigns.
He heads into Saturday’s contest with County holding a 50% record. In 2016/17, a Forest Green Rovers side led by Keanu Marsh-Brown defeated Mellon’s side 3-1 thanks to a double from Kaiyne Woolery and another from Newport born Christian Doidge.
Last season, Tranmere finally got their return to the Football League with a battling 2-1 victory over Boreham Wood. All that after full-back Liam Ridehalgh saw red inside 48 seconds, but strike partners Andy Cook and James Norwood both scored to give them victory.
This is Mellon’s fourth managerial tenure and he’s been remarkably successful in the previous jobs.
A perennial promotion winner, Mellon took Fleetwood Town from the Conference North to League Two and also took Shrewsbury Town up into League One. He also had a short stint in charge of Barnsley.
Previous meetings in the 2018/19 campaign
Tranmere Rovers 0 – 1 Newport County AFC
Saturday 22nd September 2018
Newport County AFC celebrated goalkeeper Joe Day’s 200th appearance for the club with all three points after they won on the road for the third successive match in League Two with a 1-0 victory at Tranmere Rovers.
The Exiles were certainly out of the traps quickest against the newly promoted side and took the lead after just five minutes. Padraig Amond flicked-on Dan Butler’s delivery into the penalty area and Fraser Franks met it to fire into the bottom corner.
Tranmere grew into the first half as it wore on and talisman James Norwood – who had already scored seven of his 32 goals this season before the visit from County – cleared the crossbar with a clever clipped effort in what is probably the only chance he’s missed this campaign.
In the second half, more defensive resilience was required to secure all three points, Day tipping away Tranmere’s first shot on target during stoppage time when Larnell Cole went for the acrobatic.
Newport County AFC 0 – 0 Tranmere Rovers
Saturday 6th April 2019
It’s becoming quite familiar for a Newport County AFC player to reach a notable appearance milestone against Tranmere Rovers and this time it was Dan Butler to bring up 150 appearances with a clean sheet in a 0-0 stalemate.
Chances were virtually non existent at Rodney Parade as it was more of a defensive masterclass from both sides, Tranmere defender Mark Ellis did plant a header onto the crossbar from a corner kick but that was about it before half time.
Substitute Chris Dagnall should have done better for The Super White Army midway through the second half but could only hit the base of the far post with the goal seemingly at his mercy.
County almost stole all three points with a minute remaining. Mark O’Brien forced a smart save from Scott Davies, Joss Labadie followed it up with a neat finish, but the flag was up early to rule it out for offside.
Referee: Ross Joyce
Assistant Referee 1: Nicholas Barnard
Assistant Referee 2: Rob Smith
Fourth Official: Eddie Ilderton
Matchday referee Ross Joyce will be taking charge of his second match at Wembley Stadium in the space of six days after he was the man in the middle for Chertsey Town’s 3-1 victory over Cray Valley in the FA Vase final last Sunday.
A referee concluding his fourth season in the Football League, Joyce has officiated 43 matches thus far this campaign, giving out 153 yellow cards and four red cards.
Two matches have passed this season without Joyce going to his pocket – Barnsley’s 4-0 victory over Oxford United on the opening day of the season and Charlton Athletic’s away victory at Burton Albion on 27th November.
His record number of yellow cards awarded for a solitary fixtures this season stands at eight, a figure he has only given out once, as Mansfield Town won away at Lincoln City in the CheckaTrade Trophy on 4th September. There was also a red card for Lincoln’s Michael O’Connor.
That follows on from refereeing a total of 41 games during the 2017/18 campaign, a season in which Joyce brandished 150 yellow cards and two red cards throughout the entirety of the campaign.
Joyce has refereed a match involving Newport County AFC on five previous occasions across League Two, the Conference and the Carabao Cup. The Exiles didn’t particularly have a great record until the most recent match and brought it back to two wins and three defeats from the previous matches.
He has already refereed County twice this season including the commanding 3-0 victory at Cambridge United on 13th April 2019. Mickey Demetriou was booked in a game that really cemented County as a play-off contender.
The other game this season was another important victory as the Exiles saw off Carlisle United 2-0 at Rodney Parade on 2nd March 2019. Joss Labadie and Josh Sheehan both saw yellows brandished in their direction.
Only one County game was presided over by Joyce last season and it came on 22nd August 2017 as the Exiles suffered a heavy 5-1 defeat at Championship outfit Leeds United in the Carabao Cup. Nine players were booked in total – Mark O’Brien, Matty Dolan, Joss Labadie and Joe Quigley the offenders for County.
The sole occasion in which Joyce has previously refereed County in the Football League came on 25th February 2017 as the Exiles fell to a 2-1 defeat at Mansfield Town. Janaai Gordon was sent off for a second bookable offence, whilst goal scorer Ryan Bird and Mitch Rose all received cautions.
That just leaves the first time Joyce ever presided over the Exiles, but it was another defeat, this time 2-0 at Lincoln City on 24th March 2012. Max Porter, Lee Minshull, Ramone Rose and Paul Rodgers were all shown yellow cards.
Can’t make the match?
You can follow along on social media using @NCAFCLive on Twitter, or via the Club’s official Facebook, Snapchat (OfficialExiles) and Instagram pages.
As the game is a play-off final match, no live showing of this fixture will occur on iFollow Exiles but the game will be live on SKY Sports Football from 14:30pm then also on SKY Sports Main Event upon kick-off.
Commentary of the game by Tim Thraves and Damien Footsoy can also be found at the iFollow Exiles Match Centre from 14:45pm.
An on-the-whistle match report of this match will be provided on the club website upon the end of the game. Michael Flynn’s post-match analysis will appear on the website the day after the game, while you can watch all of Flynn’s post-match press conference as-well as two County players by subscribing to #iFollowExiles.