League Two Play-Off 1st Legs: Tranmere To Triumph?7 min read
League Two A: Newport v Mansfield
Newport’s siege mentality
Newport County are a special football club with a distinct spirit.
After Justin Edinburgh left midway through 2014-15, they had not quite found the right manager to bring that out of them –step forward Michael Flynn in Spring 2017.
The 38-year-old is a top gaffer in his own right, but he is also a local lad who natives can relate to, adding a certain psychological boost in matches that pit Newport as underdog hosts.
Under the Pill-born boss’ guidance, they have welcomed a higher-placed outfit to Rodney Parade 37 times in all competitions.
21 of those games, the Exiles have won – in the other 16 games, we have seen 10 draws, one of which coming against Tottenham plus six defeats including a credible ‘loss’ to Manchester City.
That would equate to 1.97 points per game – a return to put a team third in the current Premier League – all with a budget ranking comfortably in the bottom half of League Two.
That moment when that score filtered through…
The #Exiles had done enough. #SkyBetLeagueTwo Play-Offs secured! ✅
Ticket information for our first leg tie 🆚 @mansfieldtownfc this Thursday at Rodney Parade will be confirmed and published this evening.#OurJourneyContinues pic.twitter.com/qOq6RDvKql
— Newport County AFC (@NewportCounty) May 5, 2019
Why? It could be the climate, the bobbly pitch, Jamille Matt’s physicality, Micky Demetriou’s long throws, ardent fans, the excitement for glamour clashes and a siege mentality – most likely, it is an amalgamation of these factors.
Normally, a so-called better side would expect to beat a supposedly inferior team, yet there is something about the conditions at Rodney Parade which consistently re-arranges the status quo.
Mansfield Town were dejected after losing 1-0 at MK Dons on Saturday, having needed to merely avoid defeat to secure promotion.
Although Mansfield have on paper one of the best squads in the division, there has been a disjointed feel to them lately.
The long-term injury to athletic wing-back Hayden White has left them without width; Gethin Jones has not quite been able to fill the right-sided void as strongly as hoped and David Flitcroft experimented with Alex MacDonald then Jorge Grant there on Saturday, yet neither looked at home.
Without that width, then even with the central flair of Jacob Mellis, it is hard to create space high up for CJ Hamilton to run at a defender or for Tyler Walker to get a sight of goal.
FREEVIEW: Here's the post match assessment of manager David Flitcroft following today's match at Stadium MK.👇 pic.twitter.com/KMI6n5rlHx
— Mansfield Town FC (@mansfieldtownfc) May 4, 2019
The Stags have often been forced to play diagonals and while Danny Rose, if he starts, makes a good fist of getting to aerial balls, he could find it hard to get change out of three centre-backs – Regan Poole, Mark O’Brien and Demetriou.
It is very difficult to foresee a Newport defeat in this first leg and our best bet reflects that.
League Two B: Tranmere v Forest Green
Rovers have Play-Off pedigree
Tranmere Rovers are familiar with the Play-Offs, a format they competed in each season during their three-year National League stay.
They finished 2016-17 in second with 95 points but missed out on promotion due to a Wembley off-day – ironically against Forest Green – so when they faced Boreham Wood the following year, they showed fierce determination not to let the same opportunity pass again.
Rovers had left-back Liam Ridehalgh sent off inside the first minute of a first half that also saw two players pick up injuries – yet James Norwood’s late header gave them a 2-1 triumph.
The Super White Army will take the same mentality into the League Two Play-Offs.
Great to see it full #SWA #TRFC pic.twitter.com/G6a2B7XYhU
— Philip Bond (@Bondeno1234) May 1, 2019
During their best runs, over late-Autumn and early-Spring especially, they have played with energy and intent – 29-goal man James Norwood’s diagonal runs away from the ball into space and first-time hits have been huge.
Norwood has linked up well with withdrawn forward Connor Jennings, as Kieron Morris and Ben Pringle provide energy and accurate deliveries respectively from either flank, with Ollie Banks’ positive passing normally the key to bringing that quartet into play.
Although the goals have dried up recently for Tranmere with two in their last four games, they have a big-game mentality – and Prenton Park will be rocking.
Forest Green on the go
Forest Green Rovers chairman Dale Vince was externally ridiculed 12 months ago when he said Play-Offs were the aim – so he must surely be credited for the accomplishment of that target.
Rovers appointed a Head of Recruitment last summer in Richard Hughes, meaning their transfer business improved hugely on their first pre-season as an EFL club; full-backs Liam Shephard and Joseph Mills have helped Mark Cooper implement his style of play, offering drive and intelligence respectively.
Christian Doidge returned in January due to unforeseen issues at Bolton – unfortunate for him on a personal level – and credit goes to him for scoring five goals in his final five games in spite of the upheaval.
However, Cooper has himself admitted that his team have not been at their free-flowing best in the second half of the season – perhaps the big striker’s presence has interfered slightly with the floor-based football we saw before Christmas.
Mark Cooper is now the 14th longest serving manager in England after Plymouth Argyle sack Derek Adams #FGR
— Paul Joannou (@PaulJoannou96) April 29, 2019
In the last four games Doidge has bagged in, the team has collectively scored nine goals from a combined 15 shots on target: clinical finishing has been key, but is it sustainable when set to face strong opposition?
Over the last eight games, the Green have posted 1.06 Expected Goals For (xGF) per game and 1.43 Against (xGA), giving them a Ratio (xGR) of just 42.53icap
Tranmere to win