COUNTY 2 WREXHAM 0 (Conference Promotion Final, Wembley)

A QUARTER of a century in the doldrums was eradicated in the most glorious fashion as Newport County finally completed their mission... a return to the Football League.

There is no more glorious manner to achieve promotion than by winning the play-off final and Newport County’s fans will forever remember the day Justin Edinburgh and his heroes conquered Wrexham to seal their dream outcome.

The likes of Fratton Park and the Memorial Ground couldn’t be further away from Moreton-on-the-Marsh and the footballing wilderness the Exiles have endured since the late 1980s, but Newport are now back among the elite.

It was far from a classic and the North Walians will feel incredibly unlucky to have been beaten, but this was Newport’s day as they sealed victory with two goals in the final five minutes.

The Exiles just about won the Battle of Wembley Way, a contest usually settled by who is more excited and turns up earlier to soak up the big match experience.

Familiar faces such as John Relish, Tony Gilbert and Jason Perry were warmly greeted by supporters, the anticipation building for the winner-takes-all showdown.

The all-Welsh aspect of the contest obviously escaped the FA and the Conference in their big match build-up, because never has God Save the Queen been booed more loudly and for longer at the national stadium, the inevitable viral YouTube clips certain to embarrass English football’s powerbrokers.

The first half only underlined that this was destined to be an extremely tight and tense affair, the fear of defeat clearly outweighing the desire of players to commit to attacks in big numbers or, in County’s case, to push on their wing backs.

In a tense contest the Dragons from North Wales were just about the better side, though their finishing left a lot to be desired.

Brett Ormerod – the king of the play-offs and a man Cardiff City fans will remember only too well – wasted decent opportunities, not least when he blazed over from 12 yards after Johnny Hunt’s smart cut back.

The Exiles only managed efforts from range in the opening 40 minutes, Mike Flynn dribbling a couple and Alex Gilbey on a rare burst forward, but five minutes before the interval they came to life.

Firstly the inventive Jolley curled inches wide before Lee Minshull connected with an Andy Sandell freekick almost too well, Chris Maxwell easily able to gather, whereas a bobbler off his shin might well have led to a goal.

However, it meant Newport went into the interval with some momentum and that continued after the break, Jolley again testing Maxwell, this time with a cross as the contest began to stretch and become more open.

That suited Wrexham but when their big moment came they fluffed their lines spectacularly, Ormerod missing a virtual open goal after Lenny Pidgeley could only parry from Andy Morrell on the hour mark.

It was enough for boss Edinburgh who sent for top scorer Aaron O’Connor.

Cometh the hour...

However, the Dragons were continuing to push, Pidgeley saving spectacularly from Hunt as the game continued on a knife-edge with both teams terrified of making a mistake.

If we are honest, the quality was coming from the North Walians, but pressure and possession alone don’t win football matches, goals do. And when it came to the crunch, it was the Exiles who had the killer touch in front of goal.

The game appeared to be heading for extra time, bar a mistake or a moment of magic.

As it turned out, we got both.

David Artell’s missed header from an Andy Sandell punt sent Jolley clear and he kept his nerve, sublimely chipping Chris Maxwell to put Newport just eight minutes from the Football League.

Wrexham sent for Dele Adebola and the kitchen sink in pursuit of a leveller, forcing corner after corner and piling on the pressure, especially with the outstanding Pidgeley clearly hurting from an earlier challenge.

But Newport’s dogs of war were defending for their lives and with virtually the last kick made it safe, Jolley squaring to O’Connor whose first effort was saved, but he lashed the rebound home.

The delirious Exiles looked like they’d happily stay on the field until next weekend’s FA Cup final as they waited to collect the trophy, manager Edinburgh arguably getting the biggest cheer of all on what was surely County’s biggest triumph since the glory days of Tynan, Aldridge and Carl Zeiss Jena.

Mission Football League is completed, a quarter of a century of struggle over. David Hando’s dream just came true and a new dawn has begun.

County: Pidgeley, Pipe, Sandell, James, Yakubu, Anthony, Gilbey, Flynn (Donnelly 76), Minshull, Jolley, Crow (O’Connor 62)

Subs not used: Julian, Hughes, Willmott

Booked: Gilbey

Wrexham: Maxwell, Wright, Ashton, Riley, Artell, Harris, Clarke, Keates (Little 79), Hunt, Ormerod, Morrell (Cieslewicz 68)

Subs not used: Coughlin, Little, Westwood, Adebola

Booked: Ormerod

Referee: Michael Bull (Essex)

Attendance: 16,346

Argus star man: Lenny Pidgeley