Tranmere Rovers beat Newport County 1-0 after extra-time in Saturday’s League Two play-off final to secure passage to League One for the 2019/20 season.
After 119 minutes of attritional football, Connor Jennings headed home the winner to send Tranmere’s fans, including Mike Dean, into raptures at the home of English football.
But what did we learn from the Wembley showpiece?
1. A mammoth end to a mammoth season
Saturday’s clash with Tranmere was, incredibly, Newport’s 62nd game of the season, thanks partly to their run to the FA Cup fifth round. Only Chelsea – who contest their 63rd game of the season in next week’s Europa League final – will have played more in England’s top four divisions in 2018/19.
Full-back Dan Butler has played 60 of those games, starting 59, and never stopped charging up and down the left touchline all afternoon in an incredible show of fitness, especially considering Newport had to manage extra-time with 10 men.
The fact that their play-off final defeat came in the dying embers of extra-time only makes it even more heartbreaking for the Welsh side.
2. Been there, done that, got the T-shirt
Following their semi-final win over Forest Green, Tranmere became the first-ever team to reach the National League and League Two play-off finals in consecutive years. In fact, this was Rovers’ third consecutive play-off final, having lost the 2016/17 National League showdown against the side they put out in this season’s semi-final. Weird how the stars always align, isn’t it?
Furthermore, of Tranmere’s starting line-up, Scott Davies, Liam Ridehalgh, Connor Jennings and Norwood all played a part during their Wembley trips in the past two seasons.
And in the end, just about, that experience made the difference, with Jennings sneaking home the winner with a penalty shootout staring both sides right in the face, getting on the end of a James Caprice cross at the far post.
Back in League One after years of suffering and heartache, Tranmere have achieved the ultimate redemption.
3. Big calls
After an extra-time slog, Tranmere finally lifted the League Two play-off trophy and will head into League One next season.
However, had some close refereeing calls from Ross Joyce gone the other way, this tie could have been oh so different.
First, Jamille Matt felt he was entitled to a penalty when Emmanuel Monthe stood on his foot in the Tranmere penalty area, causing the striker to go down. Nothing doing.
And then, just four minutes later, Steve McNulty clashed with Padraig Amond in the Rovers box but with Newport supporters screaming for a penalty, Tranmere launched the ball straight down the other end. A coming together between Norwood and Newport captain Mark O’Brien saw the Tranmere striker hauled to the floor.
This left Joyce with no choice but to show a second yellow card, leaving an already tired Newport with a seemingly improbable task heading into extra-time. Tiredness finally caught up with them in the 119th minute.
4. Aerial battle
Of course, a League Two play-off final is never going to have the same sheer amount of silky-smooth football that, say, a Champions League final can offer up.
However, Saturday’s tie took the term ‘aerial battle’ to a whole new level, with no fewer than 102 aerial duels won between the two sides.
Newport shaded it, 52-50 but couldn’t use this to force a decisive chance on goal, with Jennings stepping up to fire the most decisive head of the ball into the Welsh side’s net.
A cruel end for Michael Flynn’s side.
5. The provider becomes the hero
Ahead of Saturday’s final, Jennings had provided more assists for Norwood (six) than any other partnership in League Two.
However, this was the provider’s time to shine, in the most dramatic of fashions. With a penalty shootout creeping into the minds of both sets of players, Jennings popped up at the back post to head home his 13th goal of the season and fire Micky Mellon’s side back into League One.
In May 2018, Connor Jennings was ill in hospital and still managed to play a part in the National League Playoff Final.
In May 2019, Connor Jennings did not just play a part, he scored the goal to send Tranmere Rovers into League One.
An incredible journey. 👏 https://t.co/tWuqQTBS6Q
— Squawka News (@SquawkaNews) May 25, 2019
Jennings’ reward will feel even sweeter, too, given that he is now set to play League One football for the first time since 2013, after spending the past six years in the National League and League Two with Macclesfield Town, Grimsby, Wrexham and Tranmere respectively.
Dragging himself out of hospital for last season’s play-off final and scoring a late winner in this one. Brace yourselves, League One.