Abrilliant night last night for Rovers as they moved to within one win of achieving back-to-back promotions. Tranmere overcame 10-man Forest Green Rovers to reach the League Two play-off final. Micky Mellon’s side – who went up through the National League play-offs last season – will now face Newport County at Wembley on Saturday 25th May for a place in the First Division. Rovers went into last night’s game leading 1-0 from Friday’s first leg and were initially pegged back at The New Lawn as Joseph Mills headed in for the Gloucestershire club. But a well-taken volley from James Norwood against his old club quickly put Tranmere level in the second leg and restored their aggregate lead in the tie.
The result ensured Mellon’s team will be going to Wembley for the third year in a row. Reminds me of the days back in the 90s when – under late manager Johnny King – Tranmere christened Wembley, Prenton Park South after playing at the national stadium five times in two years. This time, Tranmere are bidding to return to League One for the first time since their relegation in 2014, which was followed by another relegation and then three years in non-league football.
Forest Green are now set for a third straight term in the fourth tier, having reached the English Football League for the first time with a win over Tranmere in 2017’s National League promotion final.
Tranmere had the advantage of an extra man for about 100 minutes over the two games, with Gavin Gunning shown a straight red card early in the first leg and then Winchester’s second-half dismissal last night. Yet the hosts – who have been named as the greenest football club in the world – gave themselves real hope when Junior Mondal’s inswinging free-kick from the right flank was nodded home by former Perth Glory left-back Mills.
However, Norwood – who missed numerous chances in the first leg at Prenton Park – was bang on form last night to restore Tranmere’s advantage after David Perkins’ clipped ball forward was knocked into his path by Kieron Morris’ guided header.
Just a point had separated Tranmere and Forest Green in the League Two table, with Mark Cooper’s side winning both of the league meetings between the two this term. But Tranmere and Newport’s progression means the teams that finished the regular season in sixth and seventh respectively have reach the Wembley decider, having both eliminated sides that finished closer to the automatic promotion places.
Tranmere manager Micky Mellon said following the game, “We’ll enjoy this evening because you have to enjoy getting to Wembley – It’s every club’s, fan’s, player’s and manager’s dream. But we’ll get them prepared and get ready to go again to try to gain the next place out of the division. It was an unbelievable goal [from James Norwood] and I was glad to see it go in.”
One man who definitely enjoyed the game was Premier League referee Mike Dean – who lives in Heswall on the Wirral and supports Tranmere. Following the match, television cameras captured the jubilant Dean, standing on a barrier, leading the party, punching the air in delight.
It isn’t the first time Dean has taken centre stage, either. Last month he became the first referee to brandish 100 red cards in the Premier League when sending off Manchester United’s Ashley Young. He was also in the limelight for his amusing antics back in February when he hid the ball from Sergio Aguero after the Manchester City forward bagged a hat-trick.