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REPORT | Exiles book their place in play-off final after dramatic semi-final win over Forest Green Rovers

23 May 2021

Newport County AFC booked their place in the Sky Bet League Two play-off final after a dramatic 5-4 aggregate win over Forest Green Rovers.

Nicky Maynard was the hero for the Exiles as the striker notched up his third goal of the campaign deep into extra-time to send County to Wembley. 

Ebou Adams and County academy graduate Aaron Collins wiped out County's 2-0 aggregate lead and put Rovers on course to becoming only the second team in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs to recover from being two goals behind after the first leg.

Nicky Cadden then added a third to put the home side in front for the first time in the tie before Kevin Ellison, who became the oldest player to score in the play-offs at the age of 42, and Joss Labadie replied for the Exiles.

Another former Exiles striker Jamille Matt then forced extra-time but Maynard stepped up in the 119th minute to seal County a place in the final for the second time in three seasons.

They will now face Morecambe at Wembley on May 31st for a place in Sky Bet League One next term.

Michael Flynn named an unchanged line-up from the first leg at Rodney Parade, while Labadie, who was available again after missing out through a knee injury on Tuesday, replaced Luke Gambin on the bench.

Rovers were looking to draw inspiration from last season’s play-off winners Northampton Town after they overturned a two-goal deficit against Cheltenham Town in the first leg.

And the home side, expectedly, came flying out of the traps and made a dream start with two quickfire goals inside the opening nine minutes. The first arrived after Cadden's corner picked out Adams, who rose highest and diverted his header beyond Tom King to reduce the deficit with seven minutes on the clock.

Rovers came all guns blazing again after the restart and King found himself picking the ball out of the net for the second time a minute later when Baily Cargill’s cross was flicked home by Collins inside the penalty area.

It took County until the 16th minute for them to test the home side’s defence as a well-worked corner from Josh Sheehan found Ryan Haynes. The defender connected with the ball well but saw his low effort diverted away from the target by Udoka Godwin-Malife.

Anthony Hartigan was up next to try his luck with an ambitious effort from distance which had Luke McGee backtracking but just evaded the crossbar.

County had responded well to the setback but, down the opposite end, Collins found himself one-on-one with King inside the penalty area. The striker touched the ball beyond the County goalkeeper before going to ground, which sparked protests for a spot-kick from the home side and the 1,100 supporters in attendance. But referee Martin Coy dismissed their appeals and instead brandished a yellow card to Collins for simulation.

Collins continued to cause problems for the away side and almost added a third on the stroke of half-time. The striker again broke through into the penalty area but Demetriou threw his body in the way to divert the ball onto the crossbar.

Flynn made a double change at the break as Ryan Taylor and Labadie were sent on in place of Padraig Amond and Hartigan.

But Rovers responded by taking the lead for the first time in the tie eight minutes into the second half. Cadden’s free-kick evaded everyone in the penalty area and skimmed off the wet surface before finding the far corner.

County had to be patient for opportunities in front of goal and their first effort on target of the evening arrived in the 70th minute, which resulted in their first goal. Ellison, who replaced Aaron Lewis eight minutes earlier, picked up the ball from 25 yards and curled the ball off the underside of the crossbar with a brilliant finish.

The goal had come out of nothing but it gave County confidence and inspired the Exiles to retake the lead in the tie six minutes later. After Sheehan and Haynes combined on the left, the latter’s cross picked out Labadie, who ghosted into the penalty area and swept home with a first-time finish into the bottom corner.

County had a nervy 14 minutes ahead if they were going to wrap it up in normal time. They did enough to hold out for 11 of those before Matt diverted substitute Odin Bailey's cross past King to restore Rovers' two-goal cushion on the night and level the tie for the third time.

Matt then had the opportunity to add his second in stoppage time but his downward header bounced off the turf and sailed just over the crossbar. It proved to be the last chance of the regular 90 minutes as the tie headed for extra-time.

Maynard almost restored County's aggregate lead four minutes into extra-time after he found himself unmarked in the penalty area, but, despite having McGee scrambling, his header went the wrong side of the post.

Substitute Josh Davison then diverted Jayden Richardson's low cross wide of the target late on before Maynard flicked the ball over goalkeeper McGee and tapped the ball home from a tight angle to seal the victory for the Exiles.

Newport County AFC: Tom King, Ryan Haynes, Mickey Demetriou, Scot Bennett (Priestley Farquharson 71'), Liam Shephard, Aaron Lewis (Kevin Ellison 62’), Josh Sheehan (C), Matty Dolan (Nicky Maynard 62’), Anthony Hartigan (Joss Labadie 45’), Lewis Collins, Padraig Amond (Ryan Taylor 45’).

Subs: Nick Townsend, Joe Ledley.


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