League One awaits for Newport or Tranmere.
It’s a wonderful time of the year! This Bank Holiday weekend gifts us with three play-off finals at Wembley, starting in League Two, where Newport and Tranmere will do battle.
Will we see Michael Flynn’s men write themselves into Newportian folklore? Or will Tranmere restore the status quo?
Both sides will feel confident about their chances. Newport, after sneaking into the top seven very late in the day, snuck past Mansfield—who spectacularly blew their own chances of automatic promotion—on penalties in the semis, while Tranmere brilliantly navigated past a good Forest Green outfit.
Like most play-off finals, I expect great circumspection from both teams; Newport and Mansfield keep things tight at the best of times, but with so much on the line this Saturday, I think this approach will be exacerbated further.
12 of Newport’s last 16 matches have seen under three goals scored—a run which includes nine clean sheets—and it’s a similar story for Tranmere, who somewhat limped to the finish line in League Two with a number of gritty, low-scoring slugfests.
In light of this, my first tip is for a goalless first-half.
The one truly stand-out player in the League Two play-offs this season—and indeed the regular season, as he was voted Player of the Year—was Tranmere striker James Norwood.
The 28-year-old has smashed in 32 goals this season, including a beauty against Forest Green last week, and his aggressive, bullish style makes him an absolute nightmare for defenders to deal with.
Norwood will surely be playing in League One next season, even if Tranmere aren’t, but whatever happens, I can see him making a splash at Wembley.
17/10 for a goal at any time looks a fair price.
I hate doing this, but I’m going to contradict one of my ante-post tips for the play-offs.
Newport were part of my ante-post 52/1 play-off promotion treble (which is still alive), and while it would still be lovely for that to land, having watched their respective performances in the semi-finals, Tranmere are my pick to lift the trophy (after 90 minutes or otherwise).
Newport’s victory over Mansfield was a proper ding-dong, with both sides having multiple, glaring opportunities to put the game to bed, before it somehow reached a penalty shootout. It was akin to Anthony Joshua’s win against Wladimir Klitschko – a life-and-death, 50:50 encounter, with both parties constantly living on the edge.
Tranmere’s victory over Forest Green, on the other hand, resembled Tyson Fury’s dismantling of Wlad; a highly impressive, keeping-at-arm’s-length type victory, where you’d be hard-pressed to envisage any other outcome in the future.
Newport have every chance of winning, but it’s Tranmere who I now expect to lift the trophy. They’re yet to beat The Exiles this season, but now wouldn’t be a bad time to start.