Fortune favours brave Newport in Conference play-off final

By Dewi HughesBBC Wales Sport at Wembley
Newport County manager Justin Edinburgh is hoisted aloft by his players after winning the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final against Wrexham
Newport County manager Justin Edinburgh is hoisted aloft by his players after winning the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final against Wrexham

For a club whose chairman won £45.5m with a "lucky dip" selection on the Euro Lottery, there was little wonder a slice of fortune came to play when Newport County needed it most in the Blue Square Bet Premier play-off final.

Had Brett Ormerod shown a little more composure when faced with an open goal from six yards, it could easily have been Wrexham celebrating their return to the Football League after a five-year absence.

But the prize fell instead to Newport County, as they completed their remarkable journey of rebirth to take their place in the fourth tier of English football a quarter of a century after it was snatched away.

In a season of unprecedented success for Welsh clubs that has brought trophies for Cardiff City and Swansea City, it seemed wrong for there to be a loser.

For that fate to befall either of these two sides added to the sense of injustice. Both have triumphed in the face of adversity to ensure their mere existence after being struck low by financial mismanagement.

Both had tales of revival that deserved the fitting finale of a Wembley cup final victory. Both have long, proud traditions as Football League clubs.

But there could be only one winner.

Wrexham were already part of Welsh football's remarkable roll of honour this season after winning the FA Trophy here at Wembley.

While that unforgettable day in March will live long in the memory, it offers scant consolation now as the Dragons, relegated to the Conference in 2008, contemplate a third successive play-off failure.

History suggested this day would belong to Newport, who had finished the regular season five points ahead of Wrexham in third place.

This was the sixth time in 11 seasons the third-placed team and fifth-placed team had met in the final. Each time, the team in third had prevailed.

Wrexham showed plenty to suggest they could buck the trend as their classy midfield dictated play and chances began to fall, notably to Ormerod.

The veteran striker had fond play-off memories, having scored the winning goal at Wembley for Blackpool in the Championship final win over Cardiff City in 2010.

But the 36-year-old will be haunted by his miss from six yards on the hour mark that would have put a dominant Wrexham in the driving seat.

Newport have developed a habit of scoring when not playing particularly well, and with a potent strike-force of Christian Jolley and Aaron O'Connor, they have ruthless match-winners that will not be out of place at a higher level.

Jolley had been an almost spectator, but when the chance came he showed the instinctive finishing prowess that has made him such a key signing since joining from AFC Wimbledon in January.

Newport fended off interest from other clubs - including Wrexham - to land their man, helped in no small part by the willingness of the club's board to match manager Justin Edinburgh's promotion ambition with funds.

Having a multi-millionaire chairman in Les Scadding - the fan who joined the board after scooping his lottery windfall - certainly helped, but it would be a misconception to suggest Edinburgh had a free rein to spend wildly.

His budget had grown as the prospect of promotion gathered momentum, but not to the extent that has eclipsed their rivals.

But their promotion to League Two offers the intriguing question of how deep into his pocket Scadding will be willing to go.

Newport's progress in such a short space of time has been spectacular. This was only their second season as a full-time outfit and only their third season in the Conference.

They had slowly but surely climbed the English pyramid since reforming in 1989 after the original club folded amid financial ruin a year after relegation from the Football League.

It was a journey that took them from the unlikely setting of the Cotswold market town Moreton-in-Marsh in Gloucestershire, having been barred by the Football Association of Wales from playing in their home country after insisting on starting afresh in the English system.

They were "on a mission", according to club president David Hando, to reclaim what they felt was their rightful place in the Football League.

For them to achieve that goal at the home of English football will not be lost on Hando and his fellow founders who took the FAW to the High Court to protect their right to play in England.

Off the field, Newport still have a way to go. Newport Rugby Club's willingness to share their Rodney Parade home was crucial. So too the 10-year tenancy agreement that met Football League demands.

The club had no hope of progressing if they stayed at their inadequate Spytty Park home, but there is still much work to be done off the field to make the significant step to the Football League.

Results on the pitch have overtaken attempts off it to run a more professional and corporate-savvy operation, but the club have so far managed to adapt to circumstances.

They will also be buoyed by the fact that of the 10 previous Conference play-off winners, only Hereford United have so far fallen back out of the Football League.

And with a shrewd young manager in Edinburgh ready to invest whatever funds the chairman will offer, the club should feel confident - luck or no luck - of embarking on the next exciting chapter.

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