Tranmere Rovers achieved their long-awaited return to the Football League with a dramatic 2-1 play-off final victory over Boreham Wood.
Their return comes after over 1000 days in non-league’s top tier but it was by far no easy ride for the Whites in the play-off final at Wembley.
Having spent 81 minutes against Boreham Wood with 10-men after Liam Ridehalgh’s early red card, hopes were minimal for the Rovers supporters.
But Andy Cook, who was rested in last season’s Play-Off Final defeat to Forest Green Rovers, headed past Grant Smith just five minutes after Ridehalgh’s departure to give them something to cheer about.
Bruno Andrade levelled the scores deep into first-half stoppage time with a composed finish; but it was James Norwood’s finish ten minutes from time that sealed Tranmere’s return to the Football League.
The last thing Rovers fans would have wanted 12 months after suffering defeat at Wembley in the play-offs was to suffer the same fate – but referee Neil Hair’s early decision to dismiss Ridehalgh gave an early indication of despair.
Yet, five minutes after feeling the shock of going down to ten-men, the Rovers supporters felt an earthquake of jubilation when Andy Cook found the net.
The talismanic forward managed to squeeze past Boreham Wood defender Scott Doe within the six-yard box in order to meet James Norwood’s inviting cross and send it beyond Grant Smith for his 28th goal of the season.
Two minutes later Mellon made his first substitution, reacting to Ridehalgh’s early dismissal, as 19-year-old Ed Clarke came on for Larnell Cole.
Boreham Wood could have levelled the scores when Steve McNulty failed to control a back-pass – Bruno Andrade was unable to beat the on-rushing Rovers’ ‘keeper Scott Davies to winning the ball.
Andrade came close again when he found space inside the penalty area to get a shot away from his feet, although McNulty was able to block the angled strike.
Ritchie Sutton produced an excellent tackle just after half-an-hour to deny Michael Folivi from almost certainly arrowing a shot past Davies.
The Whites made another change on 34 minutes when Josh Ginnelly was replaced by Connor Jennings despite the winger only leaving hospital a matter of days ago with an illness.
Angelo Balanta became the first player to receive a yellow card from Hair when he lifted his leg into a challenge on Norwood, although it was his protestations that made it worthy of a booking.
With the half-time whistle within touching distance, Andrade finally levelled the scores with a calm side-footed shot past Davies in the eighth minute of added-on time.
Having made all three permitted substitutions by half-time, as Sutton had to make way for Jay Harris due to an injury, things became even worse for the Rovers when Andrade equalised before assistant manager Michael Jackson was sent to the stands.
Both side’s goalkeepers were called upon early on in the second half but the scores remained level.
Mellon’s side could have produced the perfect start to the second half when Cook found space to shoot but Grant Smith managed to push the ball away. Then, on the hour-mark, Andrade had the Wood’s best chance when he struck a curling freekick towards the bottom left corner which Davies dealt with well.
The Rovers almost restored their lead with twenty minutes left but Norwood’s outstretched leg marginally missed a low cross from the right as a great chance went begging.
Davies’ fumbled catch from a cross almost cost the Rovers as Tom Champion tried to nick the ball home, but the Whites hastily cleared the loose ball to safety.
But Mellon’s side had nothing to fear as, ten minutes from time, Norwood sealed Tranmere’s return to the Football League.
Jennings delivered a hopeful cross into the box, searching for Norwood, and the Whites striker made a darting run across Champion to direct a powerful header past Smith.
Boreham Wood had a huge claim for a penalty when a low cross seemed to strike Clarke’s hand in the area, but referee Hair waved away the appeals.
The last two seasons have seen Tranmere finish runners-up in the National League but, after suffering play-off heartbreak last year, the Rovers achieved their goal of returning to the Football League when Hair blew his whistle for the final time – sending the thousands of Whites supporters who had the made the trip to Wembley into scenes of pure ecstasy.