Newport County booked their spot in the League Two play-off final, as they beat Forest Green Rovers 5-4 on aggregate, in a dramatic game at The New Lawn, as Nicky Maynard fired home a late goal, deep into stoppage-time in extra time.
Forest Green raced into a two-goal lead on the night, as Ebou Adams and Aaron Collins, as they scored just 90 seconds between each other.
Nicky Cadden’s second-half free-kick then deceived everyone and found the back of the Newport net to make it 3-0 on the night, and 3-2 on aggregate.
But Michael Flynn’s second-half substitutes changed the course of the game, as Kevin Ellison’s stunning long-range strike and Joss Labadie’s close-range finish saw the visitors lead on aggregate with three minutes of normal time remaining.
Forest Green Rovers forward Jamille Matt then made it 4-2 with just 120 seconds of normal time remaining, which sent the game into extra-time.
The home side had it all to do heading into the game, with Michael Flynn’s side holding a two-goal lead after an impressive display in the first-leg of the contest.
Matthew Dolan and Lewis Collins were both on the scoresheet in that first leg, and would have been hoping they could hold their nerve heading into this one.
After a slow opening five minutes, the game burst into life after seven minutes, as Ebou Adams rose highest to head home from a Nicky Cadden corner to give the home supporters some much-needed hope.
That hope then turned into real belief that they could win the tie on aggregate, as Aaron Collins fired home from close-range just two minutes after their opener to make it a nightmare start for Newport County. Their two-goal advantage heading into the second-leg had disappeared in a matter of seconds, and that left Michael Flynn’s side shell-shocked.
Forest Green’s high-intensity style from early on continued to cause Newport problems, as they looked to get themselves back into the contest at The New Lawn. Newport’s first notable chance of the first-half came from Antony Hartigan, with the midfielder firing narrowly over Luke McGee’s crossbar from distance, with Newport’s set-pieces starting to cause the home side some problems as they grew into the game heading into the midway stage of the opening 45 minutes.
Aaran Lewis proved to be Newport’s main attacking threat in the first-half, as his pace and trickery out wide caused Bailey Cargill some difficulties. His cross assert 29 minutes was met by defender Mickey Demetriou, who narrowly headed the ball wide of the goal, as the scores remained level on aggregate.
Neither side could build up a considerable amount of momentum as they headed into the final ten minutes of the first-half, with some soft fouls from both teams seeing a lack of notable chances.
One of the main talking points from the half came after 40 minutes when Forest Green’s Aarons Collins went down in the penalty area, after claiming he was fouled by Newport County goalkeeper Tom King. But the referee turned down his appeals and booked the Forest Green forward for a dive instead, much to the frustration of the home supporters at The New Lawn. Collins then had the final chance of the first-half, as his strong run saw him break into the penalty area, but he saw his well-struck effort come back off the crossbar, as both sides headed into the break level on aggregate.
The second-half started as frantic as the first half did, and Forest Green scored their third goal of the match after just six minutes, as Nicky Cadden’s free-kick deceived everyone, and found the back of Tom King’s net, which sparked jubilant scenes amongst the players and the Forest Green supporters.
With the weather conditions worsening heading towards the hour mark, both teams were struggling to create notable chances, which will have irritated Newport more than the home side, as they went in search of a much-needed goal to bring the scores level on aggregate.
Newport drew level on aggregate with 20 minutes remaining though, as second-half substitute Kevin Ellison picked the ball up from 25 yards out, before curling in a well-weighted effort, which beat Luke McGee in the Forest Green goal, before clipping the crossbar and dropping into the back of the net.
Newport then scored their second goal on the night just six minutes later, as Joss Labadie fired home clinically inside the penalty area to but the visitors back in front on aggregate, even though they trailed 3-2 on the night at The New Lawn.
With just three minutes remaining, Odin Bailey’s strong run from out wide saw him send in an inch-perfect cross into the penalty area, which Forest Green Rovers forward Jamille Matt converted in clinical style to make it 4-2 on the night, and 4-4 on aggregate.
The scores remained level on aggregate for the rest of the 90 minutes, which saw both sides head into extra time.
Nicky Maynard spurned a golden opportunity to put the visitors ahead on aggregate on the night, but he could only glance his header from six yards out wide of Luke McGee’s goal, much to the frustration of his team-mates.
Newport midfielder Josh Sheehan then opened up the Forest Green defence with a well-weighted through ball over the top, but Lewis Collins couldn’t get a good enough connection on the ball to trouble McGee.
Forest Green dominated the second-half of extra-time, and spurned good chance through Josh Davison, and they were made to rue that missed chance. Nicky Maynard made up for his missed chance in the first-half of extra-time, as he poked the ball over the onrushing Luke McGee, before bundling the ball over the line in the last minute to spark jubilant scenes from the Newport players.
Newport County will now face Morecambe in the League Two play-off final later this month, as they battle it out for a place in League One ahead of the 2021/22 season.