NEWPORT County AFC ended a vintage year with a hangover at the home of the Brewers as they suffered their first League Two defeat since November 2.
County have enjoyed a simply stunning 2013 and there is much to look forward to as we enter 2014 but they were second best at Burton Albion.
The hosts, who started the day one place ahead of the Exiles, dominated for long stretches and showed that they too are genuine promotion contenders this season.
Justin Edinburgh’s men weren’t at their best but they were by no means poor. Burton were simply the better side on the day and didn’t allow their opponents a foothold in the game. County defended well and were indebted to a fine performance from goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley but they couldn’t quite hold on for a point.
Edinburgh had resisted the temptation to rest any of his key players, sticking with the side that triumphed 1-0 at Wycombe Wanderers on Boxing Day.
He also retained the bold 3-4-3 formation, signalling his intent to take the game to the hosts on a chilly afternoon in the Midlands.
But it was Gary Rowett’s side who dominated right from the off and County were fortunate to make it to the break on level terms.
Brewers full-back Phil Edwards was the main danger man early on as Exiles’ goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley reacted well to keep out his header after just five minutes.
Edwards then managed to hit the crossbar from just a yard out after 20 minutes when a clever dummy fooled the County defence.
Pidgeley knew nothing about it as the ball cannoned off Edwards, onto the bar and finally away to safety.
Ten minutes later, however, the Exiles’ stopper earned all the plaudits as he flung himself to his left to deny Shane Cansdell-Sherriff what looked a certain goal.
The header from inside the six-yard box was superbly saved by Pidgeley and the visitors held on.
The closest County came to scoring in the first half was a decent penalty shout when Conor Washington appeared to be pulled down in the box but the referee was not interested.
Edinburgh’s men certainly started the second half more positively with Mike Flynn, in search of a fourth goal in three games, twice letting fly from distance in the opening exchanges.
The best chances were still at the other end, however, and Billy Kee should have done better after being picked out by Ian Sharps in the box but his header was straight at Pidgeley.
Burton went even closer on the hour mark when Adam McGurk’s shot was deflected onto the inside of the post with Pidgeley beaten but again County survived.
Edinburgh brought on Ismail Yakubu for Harry Worley to try to solidify the defence but the Brewers kept pouring forward and County were restricted to sporadic counter-attacks and set-pieces.
Tom Naylor and the lesser-spotted Ryan Burge replaced Flynn and Willmott as Edinburgh shuffled his pack but the changes didn’t change the flow of the game.
And the hosts finally got the goal they deserved on 79 minutes as Kee stabbed home from close range to break County’s resistance.
Pidgeley saved brilliantly again from the impressive Jimmy Phillips in time added on and the visitors never threatened to snatch a point.
There is no let-up in the hectic festive fixture list with promotion rivals Oxford United heading to Rodney Parade on New Year’s Day.
County will hope to maintain their impressive home form and kick-start another year that promises to be just as exciting as the last 12 months.
Burton: Lyness, Edwards, Sharps, Weir (Bell, 67), MacDonald (Hussey, 83), McCrory, Phillips, McGurk, Palmer, Cansdell-Sherriff, Kee
Subs not used: Siegrest, Diamond, Howe, Knowles, Holness
County: Pidgeley, Sandell, Oshilaja, Worley (Yakubu 62), Jackson, Flynn (Naylor, 69), Chapman, Pipe, Willmott (Burge, 69), Washington, Jolley
Subs not used: James, Minshull, Crow, Barker
Argus star man: Pidgeley