Late ecstasy for Tranmere Rovers as Connor Jennings pops up to seal promotion


Tranmere Rovers secured back-to-back promotions and a return to League One for the first time since 2014 with a 1-0 win over Newport County in the Play-Off final at Wembley Stadium.

The two sides were unable to break the deadlock over ninety minutes, although they had plenty of chances to do so.

James Norwood forced a save from Joe Day midway through the first half, but the Exiles were controversially denied two penalty appeals late in the second half.

The Welsh side was reduced to ten men with a minute-and-a-half remaining of normal time as captain Mark O’Brien was shown a second yellow card.

However, after 28 minutes of cagey extra-time football, and with penalties almost destined to happen, Connor Jennings popped up unmarked to head home in dramatic circumstances.

In a fiery opening to the encounter, it was Newport who started on top. Jamille Matt came close when he connected with Robbie Willmott’s long throw-in, but his header glanced just wide of the far post.

County’s top-scorer Padraig Amond looked a live wire for the Welsh side; it took numerous attempts from Tranmere to dispossess the ball from the forward when he burst forward after two minutes.

The Exiles continued to demonstrate a spell of pressure towards the half-hour mark as Bennett and Amond both had chances; but the winger struck well over and Amond was unable to keep his header down.

But it was Tranmere who had the best chance of the game when top-scorer James Norwood’s fierce volley was well-blocked by Joe Day on 25 minutes.

Robbie Willmott’s wasteful corner was eventually recycled back into the penalty area, but Mark O’Brien was unable to capitalise when a wayward pass somehow fell at the defender’s grasp.

Newport almost failed to deal with a Jake Caprice cross when they cleared straight to the feet of David Perkins, but the midfielder’s effort lacked any power and skidded into Day’s hands.

Rovers threatened again moments before the break when James Harris’ looping cross was directed over by Norwood; although the striker was more annoyed that the pass forward had not been made earlier when he was set to bare through-on-goal.

Micky Mellon made a change early in the second half as he replaced James Harris with Ben Pringle on 54 minutes. The substitute almost immediately made a name for himself when he delivered a curling freekick. Despite the set-piece being over-hit, the midfielder’s effort forced Day to backpedal and tip it over the crossbar.

Both sides operated the second half in a similar fashion to the first with neither side managing a spell of clear dominance as they mostly produced scrappy football.

Joss Labadie’s dragged shot wide proved optimised the cagey play as he was unable to keep his low effort on target after Emmanuel Monthe poked a clearance towards him.

If Tranmere were to achieve back-to-back promotions, they needed to make better use of their chances. Micky Mellon’s side came close to opening the scoring on seventy minutes when Norwood’s shot deflected into the path of Jennings although the 27-year-old could not control quickly enough as a golden chance flashed by.

With fifteen minutes remaining, Michael Flynn made his first Newport change, swapping Joss Labadie for Matt Dolan.

Newport’s first dangerous chance almost broke the deadlock on 74 minutes after Emmanuel Monthe allowed a cross from the left to bounce in the six-yard box with Matt Dolan sending a diving header destined for the bottom corner, but goalkeeper Davies producing a superb save to deny the forward from close range.

As extra-time loomed, Mellon opted for a tactical change. The introduction of Steve McNulty allowed Liam Ridehalgh and Caprice to move forward as wingbacks, with Jennings to support Norwood.

The Exiles had incredibly loud appeals for a penalty waved away when Matt was chopped down by Monthe’s trailing leg, but the officials waved away the claims despite replays finding the defender guilty.

Newport could have been awarded a second penalty on 88 minutes when Amond was tugged down by McNulty in the area. But the Exiles instead lost captain Mark O’Brien as he was sent for an early bath for a second bookable offence.

With nothing to split the two sides at the end of ninety minutes, extra-time was called upon to determine who would take the final promotion spot.

The only moment of note in what was an exceptionally cagey fifteen minutes came when Pringle’s drilled cross was thrashed clear by a Newport defender.

Extra-time substitute Keanu Marsh-Brown almost made an immediate impact moments after coming on, but Davies got down quickly to tip his fierce shot away for a corner.

But it was not to be for Newport as, with one minute and twenty seconds left, Jennings rose highest to head home from close range and seal a second successive promotion for Tranmere.


About Author

When not busy covering local news for EssexLive, Matt Lee can be found in the press box at Portman Road covering Ipswich Town's return to the Championship and push for the Premier League.

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