IT was the realisation that this was a last shot at promotion for this crop of players that made the injustice at Wembley so hard to take.

A 59-game season shaped by Josh Sheehan, Scott Twine, Matty Dolan, Brandon Cooper, Joss Labadie and Mickey Demetriou ended with referee Bobby Madley as its leading figure.

Newport County AFC will look to League Two when the fixtures are released for the 2021/22 season on Thursday, June 24 while Morecambe look to League One.

The Shrimps supporters, a gang of whom seemed to ignore social distancing to make a hell of a din behind their goal at the final, are plotting their away days at Hillsborough, the Stadium of Light and Portman Road.

It's more of the same for the Amber Army, although there is the consolation of two more shorter trips after the relegation of Bristol Rovers and Swindon.

Whether they will be roaring on a team hunting promotion when the season gets under way on Saturday, August 7 will be shaped by events of the coming weeks.

County face a considerable rebuild and it is far from certain who will be leading that.

CONTROVERSIAL: Countys Ryan Haynes pleads innocence after referee Bobby Madley awards a penalty to Morecambe

CONTROVERSIAL: County's Ryan Haynes pleads innocence after referee Bobby Madley awards a penalty to Morecambe

Michael Flynn was furious with ref Madley for his decisions at Wembley, angry at the EFL for the lack of VAR, emotional after going so close and exhausted after a long, draining season.

But he went out of his way to mention that he needs to consider his future as manager of County; this was not a case of the media bringing up the subject.

Falling short in the play-offs is tough. Cheltenham responded brilliantly to go up as champions this season but Exeter missed out on the top seven and Colchester flirted with relegation.

Next year is going to be tougher with Bradford and Tranmere likely to be stronger, Salford will surely get it right soon, Port Vale look good under Darrell Clarke, Exeter and Forest Green are always up there while relegated Northampton, Swindon, Bristol Rovers and Rochdale will aim to bounce back.

Finishing in the top-seven will be hard enough, let alone trying to avoid the need to go through more play-off tension by being top three.

All that with a new-look team, because County are going to have some pretty substantial holes to fill.

So far, only Nick Townsend, Matty Dolan, Priestley Farquharson, Padraig Amond and Dom Telford are under contract for next season while young prospect Lewis Collins is committed to continuing his development in Newport.

WEMBLEY WOE: Dejected Josh Sheehan, Aaron Lewis and Lewis Collins of Newport County.

WEMBLEY WOE: Dejected Josh Sheehan, Aaron Lewis and Lewis Collins of Newport County.

Josh Sheehan is certainly too good for League Two and will move to chase more Wales caps while Liam Shephard and Aaron Lewis are just two players that might get offers at a higher level.

Other League Two clubs could also come calling with bigger deals and Flynn knows that he is unlikely to be able to just pick up where he left off when the squad return.


"You can't keep rebuilding to the levels that we have got to," he said. "We have been punching above our weight and you can't keep doing that.

"I don't' care who you are or what you say, it's tough to keep doing that. Are we going to find another Josh Sheehan within our wage bracket? I doubt it very much.

"Are we going to find another, and I'm not saying he's not going to be here, Joss Labadie? It's tough.

"These players have bought into the club ethos as well."

Added to that, County have been on hold while others have been recruiting and retaining; a player that might is a good fit for League Two wouldn't have been appropriate for League One.

The Exiles have moved to work on their continuity through the appointment of a sporting director but on contracts Flynn said: "We've still been a bit slow".

In this lower league game of snakes and ladders, the boss needs a break and to make sure he has the hunger and appetite to build another team at his hometown club; selling the dream in the fourth tier is draining and has relied a lot on his passion and enthusiasm.

County would have love to have been frantically working to shape their squad for the third tier but instead it's a case of getting out the folder of targets for another League Two promotion push.

Keeping hold of players – notably Demetriou, Scot Bennett, Labadie – is important and comes down to putting forward a good financial offer and not just relying on them being settled at the club and in the area.

Is there a chance of bringing back loanee Anthony Hartigan, who finished the season strongly, to try and help fill the gap left by Sheehan?

How can County introduce some much-needed pace and dynamism? What about the goal threat after nobody hit double figures?

FRUSTRATED: County manager Michael Flynn applauds the fans at Wembley

FRUSTRATED: County manager Michael Flynn applauds the fans at Wembley

All these questions are being asked from a position of weakness, they are behind their rivals and it is impossible not to feel aggrieved after the decisions of Madley.

There are dodgy calls throughout a season and apologies are received from the Match Official Administration System.

Morecambe got one of those in March when captain Sam Lavelle was sent off against County for taking down Ryan Taylor with the score at 1-1.

Newport went on to win 3-1 and the decision by Andy Haines wasn't terminal for the Shrimps; it could be argued that it cost them a chance to edge Bolton to automatic promotion but every side has their moments in a campaign.

But there is no 'balancing out' when it comes to Wembley, livelihoods are on the line and Flynn felt "robbed" by the lack of a penalty for Scot Bennett being clattered in the face by goalkeeper Kyle Letheren and then the decision to award one for Josh O'Sullivan being blocked by Ryan Haynes, an offence that took place outside the box.

Had County won the final then it would have been a summer of tinkering and adding to what they have got.

Instead it was a defeat that is likely to lead to major surgery and the core of the side that went close in 2019 then went again in 2021, with wonderful cup runs to go with the promotion bids, is dwindling.

That would have been a lot easier to take had it come after a moment of magic from the tremendous Carlos Mendes Gomes rather than a contentious spot-kick.

Flynn often says that County never do things the easy way but losing at Wembley in controversial circumstances twice in three years is an incredible test of resilience.