In a helter-skelter tie of epic proportions, Forest Green suffered a cruel 5-4 League Two play-off semi-final aggregate extra-time defeat as veteran Nicky Maynard pinched a late winner to send Newport County to Wembley.
The game appeared to be heading towards penalties until Newport Sub Maynard bagged a last-gasp extra-time winner to break Rovers’ hearts.
Earlier, the Exiles carried a two-goal advantage from the first leg, but imploded early on as Forest Green got off to a mesmerising start, when the returning Ebou Adams nodded in a Nicky Cadden corner and then Aaron Collins volleyed home a searching Baily Cargill cross – both scored within the first eight minutes to raise the innocent New Lawn roof in front of a partisan home crowd.
Collins, who was relishing playing alongside his strike partner Jamille Matt, starting his first game since March following his horrific hand injury, was booked for simulation when diving inside the box, but he was close to a second when his fizzing strike was gloved onto the bar by Tom King as County struggled to get a foothold on a rain-soaked evening.
Rovers, who were missing captain Chris Stokes after a training ground injury, were in dreamland and could taste Wembley when flying Scotsman Cadden whipped in a bouncing free-kick on 53 minutes to hand Rovers a 3-0 lead on the night and 3-2 aggregate advantage, but the game was turned upside down when a sumptuous strike from 42-year-old veteran Kevin Ellison caught Luke McGee off his line to put this pulsating clash level at 3-3 on aggregate with 20 minutes left on the clock.
The goal tide continued when County captain Josh Sheehan fed Ryan Haynes who arrowed over a ball for Joss Labadie, who poked his shot home on 76 minutes.
It looked like Newport were in the final but this game took another twist when Matt clipped in his 17th goal of the season from a delicious Odin Bailey cross with three minutes to go.
Extra-time was a cagey affair, but Josh Davison failed to get a boot on a cross from Jayden Richardson as the rainy conditions began to take their toll.
Penalties looked to be looming, particularly after Maynard sent a free header wide of the right-hand post, but the former Premier League striker had the last laugh one minute from time, when he raced through to beat McGee to the ball to send Newport to Wembley.
Forest Green: McGee; Bernard (Wagstaff 120), Godwin-Malife, Cargill; Wilson (Richardson 80), Adams, Moore-Taylor, Sweeney, Cadden (Bailey 80); Collins (Young 80), Matt (Davison 98).
Subs not used: Thomas, Allen.
Newport County: King; Shephard, Bennett (Farquharson 71), Demetriou; Lewis (Ellison 62), Sheehan, Dolan (Maynard 62), Hartigan (Labadie 45), Haynes; Amond (Taylor 45), Collins. Subs not used: Townsend, Ledley.
Star man: Udoka Godwin Malife – imperious at the back. Currently out of contract, but Rovers will want to secure a deal for the impressive youngster.
Referee: Martin Coy.