This weekend, Newport make the long trip to the East Midlands to take on Mansfield Town. Like ourselves, Mansfield have been regular in League Two over the last decade, teasing promotions only to fall short at the final hurdle. For this week’s From the Archive, we have taken a look at a time when The Stags fell short at the semi-final hurdle thanks to some penalty heroics by Joe Day at the One Call Stadium.
The 2018/19 season has been an extremely dramatic one for both us and Mansfield Town. Saturday’s host had been denied automatic promotion on the final day of the campaign, losing 1-0 at Stadium MK in a straight promotion shoot-out.
Our final day, however, had seen us sneak into the playoffs thanks to a 1-1 draw at Morecambe, with a late goal from Jamille Matt securing our place in the end-of-season lottery.
Momentum is a difficult thing to quantify, but any football fan who has experienced the torture of the playoffs will know the old adage that the team that sneaks in at the death has a better chance than the team that narrowly misses out.
Fortunately for us, that rang true in May 2019. After falling behind early in the first leg at Rodney Parade, an 83rd-minute equaliser from Padraig Amond meant that we were still in the tie, but we would have to find a result at Field Mill to book a spot at Wembley.
The game in Nottinghamshire was a cagey affair, with neither team wanting to slip up. After a difficult opening period, we began to show signs that the day belonged to us. Josh Sheehan forced Conrad Logan into a clever save, and he came closer later in the game with a close volley.
Amond was nearly the hero on several occasions but was denied by Logan; he also missed a close-range opportunity that could have sealed it.
Scot Bennett also rattled the bar at the hour mark before the hosts nearly snatched a goal through Ben Turner, who headed a dangerous cross from Mal Benning goalwards but couldn’t find a way past Day.
Mansfield applied late pressure, with the One Call Stadium on its feet, attempting to will the ball into the net. We stood our ground, though, with the full-time whistle seeing the game end 0-0.
Extra-time produced a nerve-wracking 30 minutes, with Mansfield piling the pressure on. Tyler Walker had an effort cleared off the line, and before we knew it, penalties beckoned.
The coin flipped ensured the penalties would be taken in front of over 1,100 travelling Exiles in the away end, and they played their part to perfection. We were also selected to go first, and Dan Butler cooly converted to get us up and running.
Experienced striker Nicky Ajose netted for the hosts to draw things level, with Padraig Amond and CJ Hamilton hitting the net to make it 2-2. Mickey Demetriou converted his penalty to make it 3-2, and then the big moment of the shootout came.
Tyler Walker, a man who had hit the net 26 times for Mansfield that season, was denied beautifully by Joe Day, sending the away end into wild scenes of celebration. Regan Poole then made it 4-2 before Mal Benning made it 4-3.
This left all of the pressure on Matty Dolan. If he scored, we were off to Wembley. As he approached the spot, Newport fans in the away end covered their eyes, peeking through their fingers as nerves took hold. Dolan, an expert penalty taker, was never going to miss, though, and as the ball hit the back of the net, the away end exploded in celebration.
Our big day under the arch didn’t work out how we would have wanted, but that Sunday afternoon in Mansfield is forever etched into Newport County folklore and will live long in the memories of those who were there to experience it.