There’s nothing worse than the curse of the ex and it’s particularly heart-breaking when a Wembley final is at stake.
But that was the fate to befall Forest Green Rovers as James Norwood guided Tranmere Rovers in the League Two play-off final.
Norwood scored 49 goals for Forest Green during the four seasons he played here before joining Tranmere back in 2015. And here he seemed to ride a wave of invective from the stands to end their season at the penultimate hurdle.
Norwood’s goal kept Tranmere on course for back-to-back promotions and they are due to return to Wembley to take on Newport County on May 25 almost exactly a year on from the win over Boreham Wood that returned them to the Football League.
Having led 1-0 from last Friday’s first leg, they almost immediately saw their advantage wiped out by Joseph Mills.
But thanks to the free-scoring Norwood’s goal, not to mention his role in Carl Winchester’s sending off after the break, they hauled themselves over the line.
Having been reduced to 10 men just 15 minutes into the first leg when Gavin Gunning daftly kicked out at Jay Harris, Forest Green did admirably to come away from the Wirral on Friday night just the one goal behind.
But the deficit did put the onus on the hosts, backed by a boisterous crowd in this sleepy little corner of Gloucestershire, to force the issue and that they certainly did.
Just 12 minutes in and the aggregate scores were all square. Forest Green won a free-kick 10 yards in from the touchline on the right and Junior Mondial whipped in an inviting cross.
Mills got himself ahead of Jake Caprice and his header seemingly deceived Tranmere keeper Scott Davies, who inexplicably allowed the ball to squirm past him and in.
It certainly wasn’t a moment Davies would ever want to see and it summed up a sluggish start by the visitors, who seemed uncertain whether to stick with their one-goal lead or twist.
With that choice removed from the night’s equation, they were suddenly enlivened. Ollie Banks, whose screamer settled the first leg, barely troubled Lewis Ward with a daisy-cutter from similar range but it was at least a signal of intent.
Tranmere’s next attack was far more successful. David Perkins lofted a ball into the Forest Green box and Keiron Morris leaped to head it back across goal.
And there was Norwood, meeting it sweetly on the volley a split-second before two green-shirted defenders converged. It was clearly a sweet moment for Norwood, who’d been the pantomime villain all evening, and he stood in front of the home crowd with a finger to his lips.
Norwood played for Forest Green between 2011 and 2015, an experience he recently described as ‘bittersweet’ having been more often than not played elsewhere than his favoured centre forward position.
Clearly at home in League Two with Tranmere, that was his 32nd goal of the season in all competitions, the same as Manchester City’s Sergio Aguero and one more than Arsenal’s Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang.
With Forest Green now chasing the tie, Mark Cooper introduced George Williams to their midfield and he dropped an ambitious free-kick wide before being denied low down by Davies during the opening minutes of the second-half.
Carl Winchester flashed a shot across goal and wide.
But Tranmere always carried a threat on the break and it was Norwood who made himself a nuisance once again midway through the second-half.
He didn’t have a lot on, some 45 yards from goal, confronted with nothing but green shirts. But Winchester, who’d been cautioned in first-half stoppage time, clipped him and duly saw yellow again then red.
Forest Green couldn’t muster a great deal after that. It’s Tranmere who’ll have their big day out at Wembley – again.