TEN-MAN Newport County AFC suffered late heartbreak at Wembley as Connor Jennings won the League Two play-off final for Tranmere Rovers in the 119th minute.

It was the 62nd game of a gruelling season for County and they fought to the very end.

But, after captain Mark O’Brien was sent off in the 89th minute, their resistance was finally broken at the death.

It is Rovers heading up to League One, while the Exiles must prepare for a seventh successive year in the fourth tier of the EFL.

Manager Michael Flynn, his staff and his players can be immensely proud of their individual and collective efforts over the past nine months.

As well as that extraordinary run to the FA Cup fifth round thanks to those unforgettable wins over Leicester City and Middlesbrough, they have earned a record points tally and secured their highest finish since returning to the League in 2013.

County have outperformed bigger clubs with much bigger budgets and upset the odds time and again.

But they have fallen at the final hurdle in their pursuit of a place in League One – just two years after they were on the brink of return to non-league football.

There were seven players in the squad of 18 at Wembley who played against Notts County when the Great Escape was secured.

Joe Day, Dan Butler, David Pipe, O’Brien, Mickey Demetriou, Scot Bennett and Joss Labadie have been there for every step of the journey.

And what a journey it’s been.

Sid Nelson was also in the Exiles squad on that memorable day in May 2017, and he was at the heart of the Tranmere defence at Wembley.

Flynn named the same team that began the semi-final second leg at Mansfield Town on May 12.

Jamille Matt headed wide inside the first minute after climbing highest to reach a long throw from Demetriou.

Jennings had the first effort for Rovers in the fifth minute, but his long-distance shot was easily held by Day.

Matt then saw a shot hit Nelson’s hand in the box before he just failed to get on the end of a Robbie Willmott free-kick at the far post.

Jennings sent a curler high and wide at the other end and Bennett then snatched at his shot after a neat lay-off from Padraig Amond.

Amond and O’Brien both headed wide and Sheehan shot wildly over the top from 25 yards out.

But it was Rovers who looked more threatening as the first half progressed.

They came closest to breaking the deadlock in the 25th minute when a vicious volley from James Norwood forced a fine reflex save from Day, leaving both Norwood and his manager with their head in their hands.

Day got down well to smother a David Perkins effort from the edge of the area shortly afterwards and Norwood then headed over from 15 yards.

South Wales Argus:

Both sides were attacking towards their own fans in the second half and Sheehan had more than a few members of the amber army on their feet as he shaped to shoot just inside the area.

But the midfielder took too long and his curling effort was blocked by two defenders.

Willmott volleyed wide from the edge of the box after another Demetriou throw-in was half cleared and Labadie dragged his shot off target just before the hour mark.

Rovers substitute Ben Pringle almost caught out Day with a dipping free-kick and Jennings wasted a glorious opportunity as he failed to control the ball eight yards out and Butler nipped in to clear the danger.

A tiring Labadie made way for Matty Dolan with 18 minutes left on the clock and the Exiles almost snatched the lead a moment later.

Butler’s whipped cross from the left was met by Matt at the far post and his header was pushed against the upright by Tranmere goalkeeper Scott Davies.

Some superb hold-up play by Matt then allowed his strike partner Amond a shot at goal but the Irishman didn’t generate enough power and the ball bobbled through to Davies.

Matt was convinced he should have had a penalty five minutes from time when he appeared to be taken out by Manny Monthe in the box, but referee Ross Joyce was unmoved by the Exiles’ protests.

And, if that wasn’t bad enough, things got a whole lot tougher for County when O’Brien was shown a second yellow card for tugging down Norwood in the 89th minute.

Bennett dropped back into defence and Tyreeq Bakinson replaced Sheehan at the start of extra-time as Flynn’s men prepared to battle their way through another half hour with a numerical disadvantage.

After an uneventful first period, Keanu Marsh-Brown replaced Willmott at half-time in extra-time and almost squeezed the between Davies and the post with his first significant touch.

Norwood went straight up the other end and was only denied by the outstretched foot of Butler, who diverted the shot behind.

And a long-distance piledriver from Banks had Day worried for a second before it climbed over his bar and into the Tranmere fans.

It looked destined for penalties until Jennings headed home to break County hearts in the 119th minute and seal back-to-back promotions for Rovers.

County: Day; Poole, O’Brien, Demetriou; Willmott (Marsh-Brown, 106), Bennett, Sheehan (Bakinson, 91) Butler; Labadie (Dolan, 72); Amond, Matt (Azeez, 103)

Subs not used: Pipe, Crofts, McKirdy

Booked: Matt, O’Brien, Poole

Sent off: O’Brien

Referee: Ross Joyce

Attendance: 25,217

Argus star man: Matt