NEWPORT County AFC’s remarkable escape from relegation two years ago gave them the “relentlessness” and “resilience” that has been at the root of this season’s promotion push, according to skipper Mark O’Brien.

Irishman O’Brien scored the most important goal in Newport’s history in May 2017 when he volleyed an 89th-minute winner against Notts County to preserve the Exiles’ Football League status.

He will lead his side out at Wembley today as the Rodney Parade outfit take on Tranmere Rovers in the League Two play-off final, a game that would have seemed a million miles away for Newport fans when their club faced a swift return to non-league football.

Asked when the foundations were laid for County’s bid to reach League One, the centre-back said: “I’d say it began two-and-a-half years ago.

“We were on the brink of relegation and what we had to fight for going into that instilled this relentlessness we’ve got and the resilience the club is built on.

“The manager has kept the core of that squad and we’ve added quality to the team year after year.

“The way things have gone from last season into this season, it has only been a positive progression.

“From the start of the season, and what we knew we had in the changing room, this is the least we deserve.

“We knew the run-in we needed. We had 12 games to go, which was the same number we had when the manager took over, and we knew we needed seven or eight wins.

“It was good not to be looking over our shoulder and that we were chasing people.

“We knew if we got that run together then we’d bring back the spirit we had in that Great Escape season.

“We’ve gone and done it, and all the work that has gone on this season from cup runs to this, it’s the least we deserve.”

He continued: “We’ve got that all-round spirit in the team, it’s a tight-knit group, we all get on and would fight and die for the cause, and that has shown week after week.

“With what’s happened in the last two-and-a-half years, a lot of this squad, if not the whole squad, will go down in history for Newport.

“Through the heartache this club has been through in previous years, what we’ve done in the last two-and-a-half years has put Newport back on the map.

“We’ve done ourselves proud because when we played Middlesbrough, Leicester or Leeds and everyone turned up for the occasion not expecting much we gave them a result and a reason to cheer.

“People turned out in their numbers and they are proud to say they support Newport. We know we’ve done that as a squad, and we can take pride in that.”

He added: “You take pride in where you’ve come from when going into stuff like this because everyone is quick enough to keep me grounded when I go home.

“They are genuine friends that have stuck with me when I’ve had injuries and health problems and when I first moved over. People like that are hard to come by.”

O’Brien’s dad and some of his friends are coming over from Ireland for today’s match, although his mum will do what she always does when her son is involved in a big game.

He said: “My mum is the superstitious one in the family and she’s always watched every big occasion that has been on TV in the local pub, so she doesn’t want to jinx it.”

And as for O’Brien’s own superstition of not shaving during the run to the play-offs, he added: “It started off as a joke that I was going to grow it back, and then we went 12 games unbeaten so in my head, and other people’s heads, I couldn’t shave it.

“If I was to shave it and something went wrong then people would say it’s because of the beard.”