Wrexham’s dream of ending a five-year wait to return to the Football League were shattered in cruel fashion by Welsh rivals Newport County at Wembley Stadium.
Late goals from Christian Jolley (86) and substitute Aaron O’Connor (90) saw Justin Edinburgh’s men claim a place in League Two, although it could have been so very different.
Andy Morrell’s battlers – back at Wembley for the second time in six weeks – bossed the first half and created by far the better chances until Jolley broke the deadlock with a cool finish.
On another day Brett Ormerod might have been taking the match ball home with him as well as a winner’s medal but a combination of poor finishing and lady luck smiling on County means Wrexham will have to do it all again from August.
Morrell kept faith with the starting XI that won so convincingly at Kidderminster Harriers in the play-off semi-final second leg.
The only change came on the bench where Leon Clowes made way for fit-again Player of the Season Chris Westwood.
After a cagey start from both sides it was Wrexham who carved out the first real goal-scoring opportunity. Ormerod collected a pass into feet inside the 18-yard box and beat his marker before pulling a low shot the wrong side of County stopper Lenny Pidgeley’s left post.
Wrexham, just as they did in the FA Trophy final six weeks prior, stroked the ball around with confidence as they looked to exploit a gap in Newport’s mean defence.
Exiles stopper Lenny Pidgeley showed his composure under the high balls but he breathed a sigh of relief when he watched Ormerod volley over from 12 yards after being picked out by Johnny Hunt ten minutes before the break.
Instrumental in the play-off semi-final wins the former Blackpool hero was again looking menacing, this time a long-range effort curling away from goal with Pidgeley at full stretch.
A minute before the break Wrexham hearts were in mouths when Jolley curled a shot just past the post, then Lee Minshull fired straight into Chris Maxwell’s arms from close range after slipping the Reds defence.
Newport started the second half brightly. First Maxwell got down low to cut out Jolley’s attempted cut-back from the by-line before David Pipe showed Neil Ashton a clean pair of heels as the Exiles looked good going forward down the right.
Wrexham soaked up that pressure and asked serious questions of Newport, Pidgeley in particular. Ormerod blazed over from three yards after the Exiles keeper beat Morrell’s volley into the path of the veteran He then parried away John Hunt’s stinging drive as Wrexham piled on the pressure.
County boss Justin Edinburgh made the first change of the game, bringing on O’Connor for Danny Crow.
Morrell soon followed suit, sacrificing himself for Adrian Cieslewicz">Adrian Cieslewicz, who has so often proved a game-changing substitute.
With ten minutes remaining Glen Little finally graced the Wembley turf for the first time as skipper Dean Keates made way for the experienced winger.
The game became more open as both sides threw a bit more caution to the wind in search for a winner. Jolley would have had a clear sight of goal had it not been for the outstretched boot of Martin Riley after he had ghosted past Artell.
However, with just four minutes remaining the ex-AFC Wimbledon striker did break the deadlock. Byron Anthony floated a ball over the top and Jolley glided in behind Dave Artell, who got his head to it. However, Jolley continued his run, shrugged off the attentions of Riley and fired the ball past Maxwell.
Wrexham, unbowed, ramped up the pressure in four minutes added time, forcing a succession of corners which saw Maxwell add his presence in the box.
However, committing so many men forward is not without risk and so it proved in injury time. County broke quickly down the left and after O’Connor saw his first shot brilliantly saved by Maxwell’s legs he smashed home at the second attempt to send the 6,000 Newport fans wild.
Morrell and his men were visibly shattered at the final whistle but once the dust settles he can be proud of what his side have achieved this season and use that as another strong foundation for another promotion assault.
Newport County AFC: Pidgeley, James, Yakubu, Anthony, Pipe, Minshull, Sandell, Flynn (Donnelly, 74), Jolley, Gilbey, Crow (O'Connor, 63).
Subs: Julian, Hughes, Willmott.
Wrexham: Maxwell; S Wright, Riley, Artell, Ashton; Harris (Adebola 87), Keates (Little, 80), Clarke; Hunt, Ormerod, Morrell (Cieslewicz, 69)
Subs: Coughlin, Westwood.
Referee: Michael Bull (Essex)
Newport County: Gilbey, O’Connor.