County hold on to prove they belong in League Two
IT WAS tight, it was tense, it was nervy, but Newport County AFC came through a big test of their League Two credentials on Saturday.
After a scrappy opening half hour Justin Edinburgh’s men seemed to be cruising to victory at the break thanks to goals from Ismail Yakubu and Danny Crow.
But Torquay United threw everything at County in the second half and once substitute Ade Azeez slipped the ball past Lenny Pidgeley at his near post just before the hour the crowd at Rodney Parade sensed another home collapse.
After taking the lead in their previous two home games against Mansfield Town and Morecambe and failing to win either that was understandable.
And particularly after the black comedy that was the defeat to the Shrimps, when poor Tom Naylor put through his own net twice, there was a feeling of déjà vu as the Gulls dive bombed the hosts’ penalty area.
But this time it was different. This time the County defence, with Yakubu and Tony James back in situ, held firm.
This time they didn’t buckle under the pressure with Azeez, on loan from Charlton Athletic, looking a real handful and Billy ‘son of Paul’ Bodin making himself a nuisance all afternoon.
A deathly silence fell over the ground as Bodin went down in the box and referee Ian Williamson blew his whistle.
If he’d pointed to the spot any neutral would have backed the visitors to level and probably go on to get the win.
But the ref signalled for a free-kick to County, booked Bodin for ‘simulation’ and the County players and fans breathed a huge sigh of relief.
The win could have been more comfortable if Torquay had been reduced to ten men when Conor Washington was hauled down as he raced towards goal.
And the young striker should have got the goal his superb display deserved in injury time but his shot hit the legs of goalkeeper Martin Rice.
Azeez almost snatched a point with the last kick but he skewed his effort agonisingly wide of Pidgeley’s far post and the three points were County’s.
Alan Knill’s side will feel they deserved at least a share of the points but the Exiles showed great resilience.
They have played better and lost this season and this second win on the bounce could be hugely significant in terms of morale and confidence.
It is the first time the club has recorded back-to-back wins in the Football League since September 1986 – a date so far back in the mists of time that Alex Ferguson had yet to even be appointed manager at Manchester United.
That 15 minute spell before half-time was enough in the end.
Robbie Willmott’s perfectly flighted free-kick found Yakubu in the box and he powered his header beyond Rice on 28 minutes.
And Willmott also had a hand in the second as he set Washington free on the left and the striker did brilliantly to take the ball to the byline and put it on a plate for Crow to side foot home from close range eight minutes later.
Washington and Crow then combined superbly and the latter set the former up for what would have been a crucial third goal before the interval.
As it turned out they didn’t need it and the victory takes County up to eighth, just a point off the play-off positions and only three behind second-placed Oxford United.
It’s far too early to talk of a promotion push but this win proved that Edinburgh’s men have the talent and the fight to hold their own at this level.
And that is with half a team missing through injury, as the Exiles boss is right to keep pointing out.
Add Aaron O’Connor, Christian Jolley, Max Porter, Andy Sandell and Byron Anthony to this side and who knows what is possible this season?
County: Pidgeley, Hughes, Yakubu, James, Worley, Pipe, Flynn (Naylor, 62), Chapman, Willmott (Jackson, 81), Crow (Zebroski, 62), Washington
Subs not used: Stephens, Jones
Torquay: Rice, Tonge (Benyon, 82), Pearce, Cruise, Nicholson, Mansell, Harding, Lathrope, Bodin, Ball (Hawley, 76), Chapell (Azeez, 54)
Subs not used: Thompson, Cameron, Craig, Sullivan
Booked: Lathrope, Bodin
Referee: Ian Williamson
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