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Tranmere Win Thrilling Play-Off Semi-Final

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Eyebrows were raised when the Vanarama National League announced its changes to this season`s play-off system.

However, the two thrilling eliminator ties between Aldershot Town and Ebbsfleet United and Boreham Wood and AFC Fylde have been followed up by a barn-stormer of a semi-final at Prenton Park on Saturday lunchtime between Tranmere Rovers and Ebbsfleet which went to extra-time in front of a crowd of 8,898.

Bouyed by Wednesday`s penalty shoot-out victory at Aldershot, Fleet started well and then Tranmere began to get on top.

But Rovers` momentum was disrupted when the referee brought the game to a halt to get the fourth official to organise an announcement to sak Rovers` fans to stop throwing paper objects into Fleet `keeper Nathan Ashmore`s goalmouth.

And almost straight after the delay, Fleet took the lead in the 16th minute when a Jack Powell cross saw Luke Coulson glance a header past home `keeper Scott Davies.

However, the home side levelled after 33 minutes when good work from defender Liam Ridehalgh allowed James Norwood to hit a cross-shot past Ashmore and into the far corner of the net.

The second half started fairly cautiously, but just 6 minutes in, Fleet re-took the lead with a goal keeper Davies won`t want to see very often when he came charging out of his goal when he perhaps should have left it for Richie Sutton to clear and the impressive Cory Whitely closed him down and the attempted clearance fell kindly into Myles Weston’s path and the international winger finished with a cool side-footed into the open goal.

The lead, though, lasted barely 4 minutes when Tranmere`s skilful Burnley loanee Josh Ginnelly got hold of the ball 25 yards out and cut across the ball to send a right-footed effort curling past a helpless Ashmore for a fine equaliser.

Both teams had their chances to grab the winner in a nerve-tingling final 30 minutes or so, and certainly the fact that the semi-finals this year are one-legged affairs seemed to make the excitement and drama that much higher.

It was 2-2 at full-time, so extra-time beckoned for a place at Wembley.

Tranmere started the extra half-an-hour well and Andy Cook almost put them in front early on.
And 3 minutes before half-time in extra-time, Tranmere had the lead for the first time in the tie with a goal of real quality.

A foul 25 yards from goal saw Ridehalgh and Norwood line-up to take the free-kick, but it was the latter who struck a magnificent effort that flew past Ashmore, even though the big custodian got a hand to it.

The massive Tranmere following were celebrating in the 106th minute when their side went 4-2 up as Larnell Cole`s 20-yard effort flew high into the net past Ashmore.

A couple of minutes later, Fleet`s frustrations boiled over as skipper Dave Winfield received a straight red card following a challenge on Norwood and several players got involved in the melee that followed.

Ebbsfleet coach Aaron McLean was sent to the stands for his role in the bust-up which spilled over to involve those on the touchline which also saw a member of Tranmere’s staff dismissed from the dug-out.

It was an unseemly end to a thrilling encounter, but nothing should be taken away from the fact that these two teams put up a fantastic showing for the live and television viewers and fully vindicated the league`s change of format.

So, Tranmere will be at Wembley for the Promotion Final next weekend – who joins them?

If tomorrow`s tie between Sutton United and Boreham Wood is anywhere near as entertaining and exciting as this one, then it will be very well worth watching!


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