COUNTY 1 WREXHAM 1
A REVITALISED Newport County failed to find the victory they needed to return to the top of the Blue Square Conference, paying the penalty for some wasteful finishing.
The Exiles missed a penalty, a sitter in injury time and struck the crossbar on an evening where they proved they are no flash in the pan in terms of being promotion contenders.
Justin Edinburgh’s men aren’t generally ones for keeping an unchanged side even after a positive result and certainly in light of the massacre against Forest Green Rovers it was no shock to see the manager switch things around.
Byron Anthony was the defender who paid the price for shipping five with David Pipe recalled after injury and Ryan Charles was rewarded for his wonder goal at Rovers on Boxing Day with a first start in months.
Wrexham were virtually at full strength and the Exiles would no doubt have been wary about the goal threat of Danny Wright, a constant thorn for Newport in recent times.
However, it was the visitors who had to prepare themselves for an early onslaught, County starting as if the last game didn’t happen, moving the ball cutely and quickly and causing the Dragons plenty of concern.
They probably should have led as early as the second minute, Pipe’s accurate freekick dropping perfectly for top-scorer Aaron O’Connor but his connection was as much fresh air as ball and Joslain Mayebi was able to make an easy grab.
The goalkeeper didn’t seem so secure when Andy Sandell’s trademark freekick on ten minutes seemed destined for the top corner, but Mayebi was grateful to see the ball end up just wide of the upright.
The visitors were sitting deep and looking to exploit Newport on the counter but when they did make a sharp break, Joe Clarke’s cross-shot was just wide with Alan Julian struggling to reach it.
This was an extremely even contest which was certainly a fine advert for the Conference and it exploded into life around the 30 minute mark.
First Mike Flynn’s dead-eye pass split the Wrexham defence and O’Connor burst onto it, controlling brilliantly but seeing his shot across goal well saved by Mayebi.
The eccentric but most certainly talented Cameroonian was keeping the Dragons in the contest and when Danny Alfei felled O’Connor after a quick throw undid Wrexham, he produced more heroics to tip away Sandell’s penalty. And that miss was a game-changer, Wright once again Newport’s tormentor-in-chief, bursting onto Adrian Cieslewicz’s clever through ball and storming through the Exiles’ rearguard and chipping over the stranded Alan Julian to give Wrexham the advantage.
It was exceptionally harsh on County and on the stroke of half time they were an inch away from parity, O’Connor firing viciously across goal and past Mayebi but also the wrong side of the post.
The Amber Army were in need of a lift but much like on New Year’s Day it was the visitors who started better after the interval. However, this time it was Newport who had the first true chance, Lee Evans’ corner meeting Flynn’s head but Alfei cleared off the line moments before Ismail Yakubu was forced to limp out of proceedings.
It was scarcely credible County were still trailing and their leveller finally arrived from a corner, Michael Smith boxing in Mayebi who punched meekly, O’Connor finding Max Porter whose deflected shot looped over the stranded keeper.
Charles then forced another stop from Mayebi as a Flynn-inspired Newport continued to dominate, their passing crisper and ambition greater than the North Walians who looked bereft with Flynn sticking like glue to Dean Keates.
Julian had become a virtual spectator but when he spilled a cross with 15 minutes remaining Cieslewicz had the goal at his mercy, only to hit the inside of the post in a huge let-off.
It signalled Wrexham’s best spell, Keates inches wide with a freekick as both sides pushed for a late winner, O’Connor’s thrilling run resulting in a corner when a pass instead of a shot might well have meant a goal as the contest drifted from good to pulsating.
Danny Crow made his welcome return after six weeks on the sidelines and he missed a simply stunning chance to take all three points, a superb County move involving O’Connor and Lee Evans giving him a clear sight of goal from six yards, but he tamely found Mayebi.
Even the most diehard Wrexham fan would’ve conceded County had played well enough to win the game and they came even closer in stoppage time, a brilliant run from O’Connor teeing up Flynn whose powerful header cannoned back off the crossbar.
Newport County: Julian, Pipe, Sandell, Yakubu (Hughes 57), James, Porter, Flynn, Evans, Charles (Crow 84), Smith, O’Connor
Subs not used: Minshull, Pidgeley, Swallow
Wrexham: Mayebi, Ashton, Alfei, Riley, Chieslewicz (Rushton 86), Harris (Ogleby 67), Wright, Keates, Clarke, Hunt, Westwood
Subs not used: Coughlin, Little, Walker
Booked: Wright, Mayebi
Referee: Karl Evans
Attendance: 3627 (421 away)
Argus star men: Mike Flynn and Aaron O’Connor