Newport County suffered Wembley heartache once again after going down to a controversial extra-time defeat at the hands of Morecambe in the League Two play-off final.
Carlos Mendes Gomes’ penalty deep into extra-time was enough to send the Shrimps to League One for the very first time in their history, condemning Newport to their second play-off final defeat in two years.
Ryan Haynes was the man deemed at fault for giving away the decisive spot kick, although replays strongly suggested that his challenge on John O’Sullivan was neither a foul nor inside the box.
The fact Joss Labadie blazed over just minutes before will have made this defeat even tougher to take for Michael Flynn’s men, who also had a very strong case for a penalty of their own early on in the first half.
Flynn made just one change to the side that emerged victorious during that dramatic second leg at Forest Green, with Labadie given the nod over Anthony Hartigan.
42-year old Kevin Ellison had unsurprisingly been a big part of the possible narratives spun before this game, particularly after his celebration in front of former boss Derek Adams in the Shrimps dugout earlier in the season.
Despite only managing a place on the bench, the veteran’s involvement had all the hallmarks of a Wembley fairytale.
Sadly, it wasn’t to be, and Newport will once again be playing League Two football next season.
An opening 45 minutes of precious few clearcut opportunities arguably set the tone for what was to come in terms of the spectacle, although Newport surely wouldn’t have cared had they been handed what they believed to be a deserved early penalty in the Wembley sunshine.
A wayward punch from Morecambe goalkeeper Kyle Letheren appeared to catch Scot Bennett straight in the face following a County long throw into the box. But, despite appeals from the County players, referee Bobby Madley showed little interest.
Flynn protested, and Morecambe nearly took full advantage.
The lively Mendes Gomes, who’s previously been mentioned as a target for Cardiff City and Swansea City this summer, was at the heart of the Shrimps’ efforts to unlock the Newport defence, but chances again remained at a premium.
County’s Josh Sheehan snapped at two efforts from distance as half-time loomed, while Aaron Wildig squandered a promising Morecambe breakaway by blazing high over the bar at the other end after being teed up by Mendes Gomes.
Mendes Gomes continued to pull the strings for his side, slipping in Liam Gibson, whose effort beat an onrushing King, but couldn’t beat Liam Shephard, who was on hand to make a vital block.
After being denied a penalty earlier in the afternoon, Bennett came within inches of handing Newport the lead on the stroke of half-time, but his looping deflected effort could only rustle the wrong side of the side-netting.
County intensified their efforts in the final third after the break, with Lewis Collins and Sheehan both warming the palms of Letheren, while a last-ditch touch from Mendes Gomes prevented Padraig Amond from pulling the trigger.
Flynn threw on Ryan Taylor and Anthony Hartigan in a bid to try and find the killer ball needed to find a breakthrough, although County keeper King had to be alert to palm away Ryan Cooney’s swerving effort from distance just after the hour.
But Newport’s foothold in the game grew stronger as the second half wore on.
Shephard tested Letheren with a sweetly-hit drive just over 10 minutes from time, shortly before the introduction of Maynard and, a few minutes later Ellison.
Taylor saw a tricky free-kick turned round the post late on, but Newport failed to make their dominance of the latter exchanges count as the game headed to extra-time.
Despite the break, County remained on top and yielded their best opportunity of the game just before the interval in extra-time.
A lovely turn of pace allowed Maynard to break away on the right, before fizzing a ball across goal that eluded Ellison at the near post, but did find the foot of Labadie, who somehow blazed over from five yards.
And hat miss soon came back to haunt County in devastating fashion just moments after the restart.
O’Sullivan appeared to be brought down on the edge of the box by Haynes. Indeed, there’s probably a debate over whether it was even a foul, but the referee disagreed, pointing to the spot.
Mendes Gomes made no mistake, hammering home from the resulting spot kick to break Newport hearts.
Morecambe: Letheren; Cooney, Lavelle, Knight-Percival, Gibson (Mellor 105); Songo’o; McAlinden (Lyons 75), Wildig (O’Sullivan 90), Diagouraga, Mendes-Gomes (Kenyon 114); Stockton
Subs n/u Davis, Halsted, Pringle
Goal: Mendes Gomes (107)
Newport County: King; Shephard, Dolan (Hartigan 63), Demetriou; Lewis (Taylor 62), Labadie, Sheehan, Bennett, Haynes (Farquharson 111); Amond (Maynard 80), Collins (Ellison 86)
Subs n/u: Townsend, Ledley