County 2 Mansfield 0
NEWPORT County AFC showed they aren’t horsing around in a bid to return to the Football League – beefing up their promotion prospects by devouring the Stags at Rodney Parade.
County returned to form in a big way with a terrific performance as Justin Edinburgh’s biggest selection gamble since fielding Lee Evans at Wembley as a 17-year-old paid dividends in a huge way.
The Exiles are never predictable when it comes to the starting line-up, boss Edinburgh rotating his ranks throughout the campaign, especially with his midfield and wide players.
However, with all that chopping and changing one constant has been Edinburgh’s devotion to the 4-3-3 formation that served County so well earlier in the campaign. Not so anymore.
Last night he abandoned it and it proved a splendid move.
Edinburgh had already hinted at a desire to trial a system which deployed David Pipe and Andy Sandell as attacking wing-backs and he did so last night, Tony James, Byron Anthony and Ismail Yakubu selected as a back three and Newport looked as solid defensively as they have in months.
That meant Christian Jolley switched to a central striker role in tandem with Danny Crow and it was the Exiles who encouragingly started the brighter, Scott Donnelly volleying over after a neat move involving Christian Jolley and Danny Crow.
County looked sharper and more energetic than the Stags, more ‘up for it’ to use football parlance and Danny Crow could’ve done better when he was allowed to cut inside, his shot tame and straight at Alan Marriott.
On the half hour the Exiles fashioned a great opening, Yakubu’s cross – he rampaged forward regularly – met firmly by Sandell only for Marriott to intervene magnificently. The rebound fell invitingly to Jolley but the Stags were able to block the ball on the line.
Newport were showing no signs of unfamiliarity of the new system and produced an opening half with as much vim and vigour as any we’ve seen since the destruction of FA Cup heroes Luton Town.
However, much like in a world where Bruce Forsyth is king it is points that mean prizes and a lack of a lead will have troubled Edinburgh after a dominant opening.
It was the visitors who started on the front foot after the break, James Jennings’ vicious corner flicked on by Lee Stevenson with Pidgeley – fit after his calf injury scare – flinging himself expertly to save. He was immaculate throughout.
It began a good period of pressure from the visitors who upped their game, but Newport were soon threatening themselves, Jolley volleying over as the Exiles pushed forward at every opportunity.
Jolley was having a ‘if it can go wrong it will go wrong’ sort of an evening but even seemingly out of touch he was a magnet for the ball.
The narrative seemed to include him more and more and with three quarters of the game gone, Jolley came to the fore decisively when he went down under Luke Jones’ challenge, the referee pointing immediately for a penalty.
Andy Sandell missed his last but made no mistake from 12-yards to again set Newport on the road to victory, though they’ll have been mightily wary after Saturday’s collapse against Tamworth.
The visitors had rarely threatened with former Exile Matt Green isolated in attack, but man beast Matt Rhead was introduced to beef up the Stags attack.
The Exiles thankfully knew defence would be the worst form of defence for them and they continued to search for a second, Crow’s dipping volley just over as the Rodney Parade faithful roared their approval.
Jolley’s persistence had been Mansfield’s undoing and with time running out he was able to add gloss to proceedings, springing the offside trap and flipping the ball expertly past Marriott for that all important cushion.
The Exiles might even have won by more, but the satisfaction of a victory with a clean sheet against the division’s most in-form side is still quite a tonic.
County: Pidgeley, Yakubu, Anthony, James, Pipe, Sandell, Flynn, Minshull, Donnelly, Jolley, Crow (Washington 86)
Subs not used: Julian, Thomson, Willmott, Evans
Mansfield: Marriott, Dempster, Jones, Green, Briscoe (Rhead 70), Howell, Beevers, Murray, Stevenson, Jennings, Daniel
Subs not used: Sutton, Meikle, Wright, Clements
Referee: Charles Breakspear
Argus star man: Ismail Yakubu