Morecambe v Newport County
League Two play-off final
Monday, 31st May, kick-off 15:00
Live on Sky Sports
Ellison seems destined to be key
I was saving the Kevin Ellison story for a possible showdown between Newport and his former side Morecambe. But the Exiles’ wide man made headlines in the semi-final against Forest Green by becoming the oldest outfield play-off player – and then scorer, Opta stress. Can the 42-year-old repeat the trick against his apparent nemesis, Shrimps boss Derek Adams, who cast him out 18 months ago?
The lanky winger, who I’ve loved watching over the years, made his feelings pretty clear, when steaming back to the dugouts to celebrate a goal for the Exiles against the Shrimps earlier this season. He says he’s “in the heads” of the Morecambe players now.
This has the potential to be the “Ellison final”, an event to match “the Matthews Final”, when Sir Stanley inspired Blackpool from 3-1 down to beat Bolton in 1953 FA Cup showpiece. Ellison has his mind set on playing on next season, so it might not be a swansong. Probably best used as a substitute, he could nonetheless well be key either as a goal supplier, on a wide Wembley surface, or scorer. He could even start, if Padraig Amond – substituted at half-time in the semi-final second leg – is injured.
Morecambe, say Opta, are one of only seven club sides who have played more than once at Wembley to win all their appearances. Their successes came in the 1974 FA Trophy Final and the Conference playoff final of 2007-08. This trip, I feel, could be third time unlucky.
Big game experiences key for Newport
Opta emphasise that Morecambe have spent all their 14 EFL seasons in League Two and now, at last, have a real chance to go higher. Only once in 13 seasons, the stats men add, have the fourth and fifth placed teams met in the final. The facts I find most interesting are that only now, not before the play-offs, are Newport favourites for promotion at 1.865/6 (Morecambe are 2.166/5), despite their successes in one off cup games – particularly the FA Cup, over the past few years.
Even more fascinating, though, is that stability has proved key with the Exiles: Micky Flynn is the longest-serving manager in League Two (four years and 2.5 months), serving a touch longer than Exeter boss Matt Taylor. (Harrogate’s manager might have been at his club longer, but has only been in League Two for a season.)
Why is that important? The board has shown patience. Its members know Flynn has brought them cup fame and huge progress, from a starting point of pulling them away from almost certain relegation from League Two. Flynn himself admits that the only thing missing is promotion.
Exiles have found the way to win
Losers of the League Two final in 2019 to Tranmere, this could be their time. They battled well to stay in the play-off positions at the end of the season, ending with three wins and two draws, conceding just one goal. It was always likely they would have to score in both legs of the semi-final and they have shown they have plenty of options: Ellison, captain Joss Ladabie and Nicky Maynard among them. The latter was signed for a few months in February and feeling he has something to prove to get a starting place. He won the semi-final with two minutes to go before penalties.
Don’t forget that Mickey Demetriou, a defender, has three goals near the end of the season. It seems to me that Newport have the experience of finding a way to win when required and deserve to be a shorter than 2.89/5 to win in 90 minutes, with Joss Sheehan driving the midfield engine. Whether or not he receives the call for the Wales squad on Sunday, the news will motivate him to win, I feel.
Do Morecambe have equal desire and experience? They have scored goals in abundance in the final few weeks of the season, but of their last six games, four were at home (where they scored 10 of the 15 in their final six matches). They are now the outsiders at 3.02/1, with the draw 3.39/4.
Cole Stockton (13) and Carlos Mendes Gomes (15) both have double figures for goals – the best tally by a Newport player is six. The Shrimps also have Aaron Wildig, who scored his eighth in the second leg against Tranmere and perhaps is the wild card in the scorers markets, being ultimately more of a supplier. Morecambe performed decently in the FA Cup themselves this season, reaching the Third Round where they lost at Chelsea.
Keeper Kyle Letheran, reunited with Adams after they were together at Plymouth, perhaps has some experience in big game management. Whether Yann Songo’o and the other defenders in front of him can handle Newport in a determined mood is another matter.
Both sides have goals in them
Newport won both of the League Two games this season, which I feel is another pointer – and both sides scored in each match. Newport won both, 2-1 and 3-1.
With those results in mind, Wembley will surely offer space for creativity, over 2.5 goals seems a nice price at 2.56/4. Certainly a better return than both teams to score at 2.111/10. You can get big odds on either side to win to nil. Newport are 4.84/1 with Morecambe about 5.69/2.
For me, 0-0 is too short at 9.08/1 in the correct score market and it’s strange to find it among the shorter prices. In three of the four play-off semi-finals, both sides scored. Newport winning 1-0 is about the same price, but I feel both sides have goals in them. A result of 1-1 is shortest at 7.613/2 but, rather fancying Newport to win, with a fair bit of goalmouth drama, 2-1 at 12.011/1 tempts most, while the Exiles to win 3-1 is interesting at 26.025/1
Dark horse Dolan has Morecambe’s number
It’s interesting that Maynard for the Exiles shoots to the top of the goalscorers’ market on Sportsbook, 3/1 to score first. And the same to score last. Perhaps he will start. Perhaps not. Amond is 5/1 but has to be a doubt. Mendes Gomes is 11/2 and capable of stretching defences to let in Stockton at 9/2. I am intrigued most by Matt Dolan, at 8/1 to score at any time having scored in both league games for Newport against Morecambe. He’s actually one of those joint top scorers for the Exiles on six goals.
Ellison is 7/1 to score first and half that at 7/2 to score at any time. Destiny calls to make the latter an impossible option to ignore.