Delighted Newport boss Michael Flynn has challenged his underdogs to go one step further after reaching the Sky Bet League Two play-off final.
County beat Mansfield 5-3 on penalties after a thrilling 0-0 draw at the One Call Stadium – following the 1-1 first leg at Rodney Parade on Thursday – to book their final spot against either Tranmere or Forest Green.
A beaming Flynn said: “It is a fantastic achievement.
“I have just said to the players ‘Here is your challenge. In 13 days time do we want to be Newport County AFC in League One?’
“I thought we were excellent today, absolutely superb, and we should have gone three or four up in the first half.
“Second half they came back into it and had a few chances of their own.
“Then extra-time was like a basketball game – end to end. For the neutral it must have been brilliant.”
Flynn kept his calm when it went to penalties, adding: “It’s one of those situations that what will be will be. But I had full faith in these players.
“It is an unbelievable achievement and I cannot praise them and my staff high enough.”
Newport dominated the first half, with Padraig Amond wasting two good chances, while Joss Labadie headed against the bar and Josh Sheehan volleyed inches wide.
Mansfield improved after the break, with Joe Day making two saves from Ben Turner headers, Tyler Walker missing from 12 yards, and Danny Rose and CJ Hamilton also missing good openings.
At the other end, Conrad Logan denied Sheehan and Scot Bennett saw his long-range shot come back off the bar.
The Stags went closest in extra-time as Day saved from Walker and Regan Poole blocked Rose’s follow-up on the line.
The eventual shootout saw Day save Stags’ third penalty from Tyler Walker before Matt Dolan sealed Newport’s May 25 date at Wembley.
Mansfield boss David Flitcroft had sympathy for Walker as he said: “The kid is distraught and he will need some picking up.
“It was a great save and I have just said to Tyler ‘Don’t carry that around with you. You have been unplayable at times. You have been outstanding for us this season. You have carried us’.”
Remarking on the visitors’ celebrations, Flitcroft added: “Our dressing room is back to back with Newport’s so I told the players ‘Keep quiet, listen, absorb it, understand it and come out of that fighting. Don’t ever have this experience again. It’s horrible and cruel’.
“Tonight you’ve seen two sets of players and staff go all out full throttle to try to win a game of football, and how a goal wasn’t scored in open play I haven’t a clue.
“It was like a slug fest. We left ourselves open and vulnerable at times and so did they.
“But the lads gave it everything they had. They left it all out there. That’s all I can ask of them.”