After a long League Two season, the play-off for the final promotion spot has come down to the sides who finished seventh and sixth in the regular league season. Rankings dictated that this game should have brought together Forest Green Rovers and Mansfield Town, but with two shocks in the semi-finals we instead have a final between FA Cup upset specialists Newport and Merseyside’s third club, Tranmere.
The game should be an interesting battle. Newport have demonstrated a talent for performing on the big occasion, having held Tottenham to a draw and defeated Leicester in the last couple of seasons. Rovers, for their part, can call upon League Two’s most prolific striker in James Norwood.
Newport County vs Tranmere Rovers Prediction: Newport County 1-2 Tranmere Rovers
This match could, realistically, go either way. The sides were separated by just two points across a 46-match season and both made their way through play-off semi-finals against sides who narrowly missed out on automatic promotion. The visit to Wembley will be a fillip for both, but Newport will wish they were back at the austerely hostile Rodney Parade rather than the swanky national stadium. In the end, the thing that may swing this game towards Rovers is the presence of Norwood in their line-up. With thirty goals in all competitions, he’s always liable to pose a threat here.
Our recommended tip: Both Teams To Score
Stout defending was not the order of the season in League Two this past season, with even the division’s worst sides finding close to forty goals across the campaign. Both of these clubs will be aware that the best form of defence is a strong attack, and with the game having to be decided on the day there is no point leaving anything out on the field. Ladbrokes have odds of 19/20 on both sides getting on the scoresheet, and that seems to be a price worth taking given the attacking talent on show.
In terms of previous meetings between these sides, it’s fair to say they’re both due a goal. Despite the presence of decent attacking talent, their two meetings in the league squeezed out a single goal between them – Exiles defender Fraser Franks scoring in the fifth minute of his side’s trip to Prenton Park from a Padraig Amond assist. At Rodney Parade, the sides froze each other out completely and the game ended goalless. It will be much more difficult for defences to come out on top, though, at the much more expansive stadium they’ll play at this weekend.
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Players to watch: Padraig Amond & James Norwood
Irish forward Amond has had a circuitous career path, moving from Sligo in the Irish Premier to Pacos de Ferreira in the Portuguese top flight. That improbable move was followed by an equally odd hop from the Iberian peninsula to Accrington Stanley. The 31-year-old has become a cult figure at Newport and his seventeen goals this season included a winner against Premier League side Leicester City. One thing’s for sure – he’s unlikely to be fazed by the occasion.
Norwood was, fittingly, on the scoresheet for the Whites as they picked up a 1-1 draw to tip-toe past Forest Green on aggregate. Time and again this season he has scored his side’s first goal, or the winning goal, on important occasions and they don’t come much bigger than this one for Tranmere. This will be his 100th game for the side, and in the first 99 he has grabbed 55 goals, a rate of better than one every two games. Norwood has never played at a higher level than League Two, but before this season he’d only played at this level three times – a step up doesn’t seem to bother him.