The Sky Bet League Two play-off semi-finals will get underway tomorrow, at 20:15 BST, as Newport County welcome Forest Green Rovers to Rodney Parade.
Michael Flynn’s Exiles head into their home tie on an excellent run of form, having lost just one of their previous nine outings against an eventually promoted Cambridge United.
A large reason for this could be their consistency in earning penalties, as only Cambridge have been granted more spot kicks throughout the League Two season.
Their opponents are the travelling Green Devils, who head into the contest in a very different situation. Despite the fact they’ve managed just three wins in their last 12 outings, Forest Green have managed back to back victories in the closing of the season, following wins over Tranmere Rovers and a thumping over Oldham Athletic.
However, Forest Green remain managerless after the sacking of Mark Cooper earlier in the season, as Jimmy Ball remains in charge on an interim basis.
Newport fans were concerned that captain Joss Labadie would be absent after the combative midfielder picked up a knock against Southend United on the final day of the season, but the 30-year-old has since recovered and is available for selection.
There are doubts over Priestley Farquharson, after a spell on the sidelines but he’ll face a late fitness test if he is to start, whilst Dom Telford, Jake Scrimshaw and David Longe-King could feature.
Liam Shephard could start against his former employers.
Former Exile Jamille Matt will be absent for Forest Green after his season ending injury, with Dan Sweeney and Elliot Whitehouse in a similar position.
There’s a slim chance that Nicky Cadden could also feature after a spell out injured, but Ball confirmed it may be too soon for the winger.
Ebou Adams will also be suspended after picking up a red card against Tranmere.
Shawn McCoulsky and Aaron Collins could start against their former side.
Newport County: King; Lewis, Shephard, Bennett, Demetriou, Haynes; Hartigan, Sheehan, Labadie; Amond, Collins.
Forest Green Rovers: McGee; Bernard, Godwin-Malife, Stokes, Cargill; Wilson, Moore-Taylor, Bailey, Wagstaff; Collins, Davison.
Ones to watch
One of the largest reasons for Newport’s deserved success this season is the playmaker spark that is Sheehan in the middle of the park.
The former Swansea City academy graduate has really come into his own this season, linking up well with Labadie in the midfield and consistently finding the perfect passes to split a defence in two. With three goals and three assists this season, the 26-year-old is playing some of his best football with League One clubs beginning to sniff.
With the absence of top scorer Matt and playing against his former club, all eyes will be on Collins tomorrow night.
The 25-year-old forward has impressed since Ball took the reigns, having to adapt alongside Josh Davison and work under a new regime, the striker has flourished. With 10 goals and seven assists this season, Collins has been a huge reason for Forest Green managing to work their way back into the play-offs, following their blip under Cooper.
Newport County: W4 D4 L2
Forest Green Rovers: W3 D2 L5
Newport have managed to defeat Forest Green just once in their last six outings, but have failed to do so at all this season. With the earlier fixture ending a 1-1 draw, the two sides faced one another again in February, but Forest Green ran out 2-0 victors thanks to goals from Davison and Matt.
Newport assistant manager Wayne Hatswell spoke to the press, and praised the impact the supporters could have on their return, he said:
“I’m hoping it’s going to make a huge difference. We’ve only experienced crowds once this season which was at Leyton Orient. We didn’t have any away fans, so I think the players are looking forward to having them back because they haven’t been here for 14 months.
“The players are going to soak it up and hopefully that gives them a little bit extra to make a run which could just be the difference. I want to hear them getting behind us because I’ve had that feeling throughout my footballing life. You could see on the weekend the influence that it has with the emotion and it means something.
“The players feed off that and I want every one of them to sing high heaven and get behind the lads. That’s what they’ve done in the past and they’ve made it hostile for any opposition team that’s been here before. Whether we’ve had 5,000 or 7,000, I know they would do the same with only 900. They’ve got to make up for the ones that aren’t there and I know that will be done.”
Hatswell also spoke on the team’s chances heading into the first leg:
”We know it’s going to be tough but we’ve given ourselves a good chance. It’s not a disappointment that we’ve not finished second or third.
“We’ve had our ups and downs and it’s been a tough season for everyone but we’ve had two cup runs and we’ve got to the play-offs again. There aren’t any negatives from this season and we’re going to go into it in full positive mode.”
Meanwhile, Rovers interim boss Ball also spoke on the fixture, saying:
“The group is in fantastic nick and great spirits. We’ve had a great week, another really good day of training. We’re leaving no stone unturned, we’ve got no regrets and we’ve got one more day to prepare, plan and make our final decisions, and then we’ll be going to Newport on Tuesday night to fight for our lives and hopefully bring something back that we can fight for again.
”We want to give this club something to celebrate with a wonderful trip to Wembley, and then hopefully get to League One. That’s the aim and hopefully we can achieve that. All I can say is that we’re in great nick, great form, great spirits, but also humble and we know we’ll have to fight for our lives. If we outrun, outcompete, outthink and ultimately outplay the other team then we will take them all the way.”
Ball has had a personal journey of his own too, having only taken the Under-18’s job back in last Summer, and now had the chance to play at Wembley: “It’s every one’s dream. Wembley is the place you want to go and play football at. If you ask people from Brazil or anywhere, where they dream of playing football, they’d say Wembley.
”We’re very close but you can’t take anything for granted. I came to this football club for the project and that excited me; what the club stands for, the way they work, the way they want to play football, and that hasn’t changed, I’m just involved in a different project now rather than the one with the youth team. The project and the potential of the football club still excites me. The most important thing is continuing to move this project on and taking this club forward. That was the reason I came here in the first place.”
How to watch
The game is available on Sky Sports Football or Sky Go Extra, but can also be purchased via the Newport County website and Ifollow for a fee of £10.