att Dolan stroked home the winning penalty as Newport County earned a place in the League Two Play-off Final following a tense penalty shoot-out which came about after an incredible 0-0 draw at the One Call Stadium. The Final will be Newport’s fourth trip to Wembley in just seven years.
Both sides made one change to their starting line-ups from Thursday night’s draw; Neal Bishop picked up an injury in that game and was replaced by Ryan Sweeney for Mansfield. Joss Labadie’s replaced Matt Dolan for the Exiles.
After a largely unsettled opening period, County had two guilt-edge chances to take the lead within a few minutes of each other, courtesy of Josh Sheehan and Padraig Amond. Dan Butler provided a trademark pinpoint cross from the left-hand side and found an unmarked Josh Sheehan who was marauding forward into the box. The in-form midfielder met it first time and put it narrowly wide; a warning shot to the hosts but just minutes later, Amond will have wondered how he didn’t add to his own season’s tally.
Jamille Matt took a high ball on the chest, was able to beat another defender and play a delicious ball into the Irishman and while he did go for the gap at Conrad Logan’s near post, he could only find the side netting. County could ill-afford to pass up such opportunities but we’re buoyed by the fact they were the better side.
This point was hammered home when further chances presented themselves; first to Joss Labadie who, following some head tennis, saw his effort rebound off the crossbar and then when Robbie Willmott curled a teasing ball of his own into the box, Ben Turner’s defensive header hit almost exactly the same spot on the woodwork. County by far the better side in the first half; they would have to repeat it if they were to get themselves to the home of football next weekend.
Credit to Mansfield, they came out of the traps quicker than County in the second half; chances for Danny Rose and Tyler Walker went wide of the goal but County quickly regained their upper hand. Scot Bennett isn’t exactly known for his goal-scoring ability but he nearly stunned the home crowd as he let fly from all of 40 yards and joined the list of players who rattled the crossbar. Conrad Logan was a mere spectator for that one but was at his best just moments later. The ball landed at Josh Sheehan feet on the edge of the box and he curled it beautifully but the Stags’ stopper extended his arm to tip it round the post.
The hosts had a period of pressure midway through the second half and after Ben Turner hit his own crossbar in the first, he forced two saves out of Joe Day in quick succession from a pair of crosses into the box and then Tyler Walker scuffed a volley on target but Day again tipped it wide for a corner. Both sides would work good areas but ultimately be restricted to half chances for the rest of the 90, so into extra time it went…
Little to shout about in the first 15 but Mansfield should’ve won it just on the whistle as Tyler Walker saw a close-range effort saved by Day and Atkinson’s follow-up cleared off the line. In a bath less game, it remained 0-0. It did so after a largely lifeless second period of extra time as well so on to penalties…
Butler – Goal (1-0)
Ajose - Goal (1-1)
Amond – Goal (2-1)
Hamilton - Goal (2-2)
Demetriou – Goal (3-2)
Walker - Saved (3-2)
Poole – Goal (4-2)
Benning - Goal (4-3)
Doan - Goal (5-3)
Three and a half hours of football could not split these sides. Some refereeing decisions will be questioned for some time to come. But neither side asked for, or gave a single inch in this tie. They both had spells on top, they both had to defend for their lives. It was a glow indictment of League Two football But on the whole, I don’t think it can be argued that on the balance of play, County deserve to be walking out at the home of football the weekend after next and not enough praise can be heaped on Michael Flynn, his staff or any of his players for what they achieved over the past two seasons. See you all at Wembley!
Man of the Match: Scot Bennett
Player Ratings: Day 7, Butler 6, Labadie 7 (Azeez 5)(McKirdy 5), Willmott 6, Amond 6, Matt 6, Sheehan 7 (Dolan 6), Bennett 7, O’Brien (C) 6, Poole 6, Demetriou 7
Attendence: 7,361 (1,118 away)