Nicky Maynard labelled Newport County AFC’s play-off semi-final second leg defeat against Forest Green Rovers as the “best loss” of his career.
The Exiles were beaten 4-3 at the Innocent New Lawn on Sunday evening in a dramatic clash, which saw their two-goal aggregate lead wiped out in the opening eight minutes.
It was the third time County had shipped four goals this season and their first defeat since the middle of April.
But it proved to be enough for Michael Flynn’s side as they reached their second play-off final in the space of three seasons after a 5-4 aggregate win.
"I think it’s the best loss that I’ve ever been involved in," said Maynard.
"I think we were all relieved after letting them get back into the game, but we had that never-say-die attitude and we always believed that we were going to score goals.
"They always say about Newport never making it easy for themselves, and we didn’t make it easy again but thankfully we’ve got a trip to Wembley."
County were pegged back through two quickfire goals from Ebou Adams and Aaron Collins before Rovers went ahead for the first time in the tie in the second after Nicky Cadden’s free-kick.
Maynard had to watch on from the sidelines as the home side completed a dramatic turnaround in the space of 46 minutes, but credited his side for the way they responded to going behind.
"We thought we would slow the game down and try to frustrate them but they came out the blocks quickly and we didn’t start well.
"We had their fans on our backs as well but we dug deep in the end and did what we needed to get through."
Kevin Ellison, Joss Labadie and Maynard were among the substitutes introduced for the second half in Nailsworth, and Flynn’s changes paid dividends as they all got on the scoresheet.
Ellison’s 25-yard effort and a strike from Labadie saw County retake the lead, but Jamille Matt’s late strike with three minutes left sent the tie to extra-time.
But Maynard had the final say in the 119th minute with a composed finish to ensure County sealed their place at Wembley.
"When the team isn’t doing well you always think that you’re able to make a difference, but the manager makes his choices and it’s down to the lads on the pitch to prove they deserve to be on the pitch.
"Sometimes you don’t get the rub of the green or you don’t play well and it’s down to the subs to make an impact, which they thankfully did.
"I always like playing off the shoulder and I always believe that I’m going to get one, two or three chances and at least one is going to go in the back of the net.
"I had a couple of chances and I still thought there would be a few more, so thankfully Lewis Collins put a nice ball through to me and I slotted it in."
The Exiles will now take on Morecambe, who finished a place above them in the table, on May 31st for a place in Sky Bet League One next term on the line.
Maynard said: "It’s not finished yet and we’ve got a lot of work to do before next Monday. Hopefully we can make it easier than we did against Forest Green."