NEWPORT County AFC’s unofficial motto of ‘We don’t do things the easy way’ rang true again after a remarkable League Two play-off semi-final win against Forest Green Rovers.

The Exiles were leading the tie, level, behind, level, in front, level and then struck with two minutes of extra time remaining to make it to Wembley.

Nicky Maynard, who has failed to fire since joining on loan from Mansfield in January, is now a County legend.

The veteran striker missed a sitter in extra time but then scored the crucial goal to make it 5-4 on aggregate on a mind-blowing, exhausting evening at the New Lawn.

Early in the second half it looked like it would be Sutton rather than Sunderland next season after the hosts went 3-0 up at the New Lawn.

Yet goals from 42-year-old Kevin Ellison and captain Joss Labadie, both brought off the bench, put County in front.

Former Exile Jamille Matt forced extra time but then Maynard saved us the drama of penalties.

Michael Flynn’s time in the County hotseat has featured some remarkable occasions and this was right up there, second only to the Great Escape from relegation.

Only three teams have previously managed to overcome a 2-0 deficit from the first leg – Bradford in 1996, Northampton in 1998 and Yeovil in 2007.

Forest Green came incredibly close to making it four, which would have left Flynn lamenting their profligacy at Rodney Parade in the first leg.

The team news was expected with County sticking with the same XI that put them in command on home soil.

Free Press Series:

That meant captain Joss Labadie had to settle for a place on the bench, with Luke Gambin missing out.

The Rovers side was also as expected with the fit-again Matt, Dan Sweeney, and Cadden starting with Adams back from suspension.

Conditions were challenging with a strong southerly wind that County had at their backs in the first half.

County had conceded three goals just twice in the regular season – shipping four at home to Oldham then three in the return fixture at Boundary Park – while they had been miserly in the run-in.

Yet they had conceded twice before nine minute were on the clock in a nightmare start.

They’d already had a lucky escape when Cadden hit the wall from a free-kick in a dangerous position but the rebound from Aaron Collins was deflected behind for a corner.

Cadden whipped it in and Adams glanced home a header, but it wasn’t 1-0 for long with a cross from the left by Baily Cargill slotted by the unmarked Collins, the ball going under goalkeeper Tom King.

County responded with a spell of possession – how they could have done with that from the off – and Ryan Haynes had a shot blocked inside the box and Anthony Hartigan shot over from distance.

It remained 2-0 on the night after half an hour with the hosts happy to have a breather after their rapid start.

The Exiles were playing some nice stuff without creating the openings that they did in the second half at Rodney Parade and they ended up being happy to be level heading into the break.

First Collins was played in but went down as he rounded King rather than taking on the shot; the forward was booked rather than getting a penalty.

The Newportonian nearly turned the tie in Rovers’ favour in time added on when he once again caught County on the break, cut in on his right and his shot deflected onto the top of the bar.

The Exiles needed a response and Flynn turned to his bench, bringing on captain Labadie for Hartigan and Ryan Taylor for Padraig Amond.

However, they were tasked with chasing the game in the 53rd minute when the skipper gave away a free-kick in a dangerous area.

Cadden whipped in a cracking ball and it went all the way through, with the hint of an offside as Adams in the eyeline of King.

The Exiles needed a lift and Flynn brought on 34-year-old striker Nicky Maynard and 42-year-old midfielder Kevin Ellison, leading to another rejig in the hunt for the right formula.

Boy did it work.

First Ellison fired home a cracker from outside the box via the underside of the bar and then Labadie met a Ryan Haynes cross from the left with his left foot and swept home a wonderful goal.

Free Press Series:

County, who had been saved by a Mickey Demetriou header off his line in between the goals, were 4-3 up and 15 minutes away from an incredible win.

Rovers seemed to lose their way and suddenly the clock was ticking down nicely for Newport but from nowhere they were level with a frustrating goal.

Forest Green were in down the left and Matt got in front of his man to slot from Odin Bailey’s cross.

Into extra time and it should have been 5-4 twice.

Maynard headed wide from six metres out and then Lewis Collins failed to get a good connection on the volley, Haynes and Sheehan the providers from the left flank.

Another half-chance came and went for Maynard, who controlled Mickey Demetriou’s long-range effort but fired high and wide with his left, and it remained level at the interval.

County were the better side in extra time yet it was the host that pushed as 120 approached with Josh Davison going close to converting a cross.

Then came Maynard’s moment – the January ‘flop’ is now an Exiles great.

Forest Green: McGee, Wilson, Bernard (captain), Sweeney, Cargill, Adams, Collins, Cadden, Matt, Moore-Taylor, Godwin-Malife.
Substitutes: Thomas, Allen, Bailey, Young, Wagstaff, Davison, Richardson.
Goals: Adams, Collins, Cadden, Matt

County: King, Shephard, Bennett (Farquharson 70), Demetriou, Lewis (Ellison 61), Haynes, Sheehan (captain), Dolan (Ellison 61), Hartigan (Labadie 45), Collins, Amond (Taylor 45).
Substitutes: Townsend, Ledley.
Goals: Ellison, Labadie, Maynard

Referee: Martin Coy