Battling point could be springboard for Newport County

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ON THE ATTACK: Newport County’s Robbie Willmott in action against Accrington on Saturday: Pictures: KIPAX

First published in Sport

LEE Minshull’s happy knack of scoring vital goals when the temperature gauge hits freezing earned Newport a valuable point at Accrington, but maybe showed more in the wider scheme of things.

The Exiles are in a really healthy state after collecting a first point in 2014 and showed tremendous resiliency to avoid what would’ve been a third straight defeat when they went behind with barely 40 seconds remaining in normal time.

They continue to play positively on the road and slowly but surely they’ve began to see results improve as they adjust to life in the Football League.

At home they’ve continued to be a force and with 13 of the remaining 22 league games at Rodney Parade and key players set for a return, points like the one earned at Accrington seem even more valuable.

There will be regret on County’s part, however, that they didn’t produce their best in anything more than fits and spurts, failing to capitalise on going ahead early on and lacking conviction in virtually every aspect of their play for spells.

Defensively they were well below par. It would be mightily unfair to point accusing fingers at Andy Sandell, a stellar performer for the Exiles and the best player at the club over much of 2013, but he’s struggling as a central defender.

Sandell’s best attributes are attacking ones and he’s being exposed at times as part of a back three.

However, there were many positives for County than negatives with boss Justin Edinburgh making five changes to the side beaten by Northampton with only two enforced.

He went back to 5-3-2 and intriguingly deployed David Pipe, with success, as a holding midfield player, virtually for the first time since Anthony Hudson was in charge.

Ryan Burge was given a start for the first time and really caught the eye, the prospect of him playing alongside Adam Chapman tantalising for fans of a smart pass.

Rene Howe started and finished the game and his debut was highly encouraging.

County started far the better and went ahead on 11 minutes.

Restored to left wing-back, Robbie Willmott might feel somewhat fortunate to have fired home his fifth of the season, his 30-yard freekick smashed straight through the middle of the Accrington wall and past the despairing Marcus Bettinelli.

Edinburgh was aggrieved by the nature of County’s collapse after such a confident start, from a winning position to a losing one, by the time half time arrived.

Peter Murphy had already come close from an acute angle on 20 minutes but Newport didn’t heed the warning as they became hesitant and wasteful in possession.

Not even sixty seconds passed before ex-Manchester United man Danny Webber slipped the ball into Murphy who got away from Andy Sandell too easily and he fired the ball confidently across Lenny Pidgeley.

Pidgeley has had a really solid season on his return to the Football League but he’s currently in a no-win situation between the sticks for the Exiles.

A broken thumb has forced him to wear a splint and miss any contact training and he is still three to four weeks from healing.

Jamie Stephens is still missing with a calf strain and Pidgeley’s lack of preparation – he explains it that a goalkeeper might make 300 saves in a week in training and only five in a game – showed as Accrington moved in front just before half time.

Murphy was this time the architect, his cross met by Kai Naismith who beat Pidgeley to the punch, figuratively and literally, the ex-Chelsea man rising like Superman but only hitting fresh air. He did, however, deny Webber in the second half with the score at 2-1. It proved a pivotal moment.

Edinburgh had sent his players back out five minutes before the restart on a cold day and that sent a clear message. He got a response too, the Exiles producing a better tempo and looking the more likely side.

The equaliser arrived on 71 minutes when Conor Washington flicked on a Howe header beautifully and Burge went on a surge; the midfielder gambling at just the right moment to ghost through the Accrington defence and smash the ball confidently past Bettinelli at his near post after taking a neat touch on his chest.

Both sides then went into their shells, seemingly and perhaps understandably intent first and foremost on not losing. However, any thoughts of the game petering out disappeared on 89 minutes when the hosts again took the lead.

County would hotly dispute the award of a freekick that led to a fifth Accrington corner, but they should’ve done far better than to allow the red-hot Murphy a free header that he planted perfectly past Pidgeley.

It was a gut punch for a Newport side already on their haunches after back-to-back defeats in League Two, but they refused to go down for the count.

A minute into injury time they came again, Sandell in an advanced position switching it intelligently to Willmott who picked a perfect cross, Minshull with time and space – it felt like an age – to control and poke the ball expertly into the net.

It was a wondrous moment for the sparse travelling Amber Army, but the significance in the wider scheme of things could be great.

Accrington: Bettinelli, Hunt, Lee Naylor (Wilson 79), Aldred, Winnard, Naismith, Mingoia, Joyce, Murphy, Odejayi, Webber (Hatfield 79)

Subs not used: McCartan, Roddan, Windass, Atkinson, Bowerman

Booked: None

Newport: Pidgeley, Naylor, Yakubu, Sandell, Pipe, Jackson, Burge, Minshull, Willmott, Washington (Jolley 78), Howe

Subs not used: James, Crow, Flynn, Hughes

Booked: Howe, Pipe

Referee: Dean Whitestone (Northamptonshire)

Attendance: 1318 (158)

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