YORK 1 COUNTY 0
IF NEWPORT County’s 2014 has been their difficult second album, Saturday’s visit to York City represented the Greatest Hits of their horrible recent run.
The Exiles had previously enjoyed success, success and nothing but success under boss Justin Edinburgh, but for what we now conclude is a variety of factors, the New Year has brought doom, gloom and a plummet down the League Two table.
And if we’ve seen trends developing during Newport’s recent travails, they were all present and correct on Saturday as the Exiles saw their hosts guarantee their season will contain, as a minimum, both a 47th and 48th game.
Injuries galore? Check. County lost Darcy Blake before the game with a rib injury and aspiring boxer Andy Sandell damaged shoulder ligaments in the first half.
County also ticked off many other facets that have summed them up in recent weeks, most notably a bluntness to their attacking play and an inability to keep a clean sheet, even after a much-improved defensive display.
Goalkeeper Ian McLoughlin probably made half-a-dozen top class saves over 90 minutes, but he should’ve done better for the winning goal as County conceded a needless freekick and paid the price, their ability to shoot themselves in the foot very much present and correct, yet again.
It would perhaps be easier for the travelling Amber Army to take if the Exiles were losing by a margin or being outclassed week after week, but they’ve lost more games by a single goal than the manager Justin Edinburgh feels acceptable and you can understand his frustration.
“This was a game where we should’ve possibly won, because we played good stuff and put them under pressure for large spells, but it’s a game we never should have lost, that’s for sure,” Edinburgh would comment afterwards.
His game plan was simple enough with all the emphasis on the hosts to make something happen as they searched for the points to guarantee them a play-off berth, just as it will be on Saturday when Rochdale visit Rodney Parade with the title on their minds.
Newport set out their stall to be rigid and strong defensively with Max Porter particularly deep to compensate for County’s lack of experience in central defence with Darcy Blake (rib) and Andy Sandell (shoulder) forced out of proceedings, Blake short before kick-off and Sandell just before half time.
It would scarcely have been creditable in August to suggest Newport would face a top six side with a back four of Robbie Willmott, Kevin Feely, Andrew Hughes and Ryan Jackson, but under the circumstances it was admirable stuff from them collectively, an effort Newport simply couldn’t match in attack.
At times the Exiles have struggled for goals and they definitely haven’t been as clinical as they’d like, but rarely have they looked as utterly toothless as they did on Saturday, striking trio Aaron O’Connor (second) half, Christian Jolley and Chris Zebroski all enduring ‘one of those days.’
Indeed, other than when Lee Minshull’s firm header from Ryan Jackson long-throw was palmed onto the post, Newport had few of the clear-cut chances in the contest despite plenty of possession.
County started brightly and were composed, Adam Chapman, restored to the side at Mike Flynn’s expense, firing over as he looked to pull the strings and Jackson also got in on the act as the hosts were ponderous, seemingly taking a break at the former Kit Kat Stadium, now mercifully known once more as Bootham Crescent.
It took the hosts a full 35 minutes to produce even an effort worthy of documenting – though Lewis Montrose produced a fairly horrific challenge - but when they did, County goalkeeper Ian McLoughlin produced one of the saves of the season, incredibly tipping the ball round the post despite striker Adam Reed being only yards out. Reed, it has to be said, was every bit as bad as his partner in crime Michael Coulson, was good.
Coulson clipped the bar just before the interval as the Andy Sandell injury disrupted Newport, but they settled into the same pattern after the break and should’ve gone ahead.
Newport produced the best move of the game when Aaron O’Connor, Robbie Willmott and Chris Zebroski combined to set-up Porter who was onto O’Connor’s chipped pass in a flash, but he could only volley at Nick Pope.
By that point McLoughlin had repelled the best chance of the second half when he again denied Reed, this time clean through on goal, but County needed to score when on top.
They came close when Willmott’s freekick was tipped over, but the hosts held firm to secure their 14th clean sheet in the past 16 games.
The natives were getting restless with a bumper crowd desperate for something to cheer, but County will fume at the manner they conceded with only 13 minutes remaining.
The Exiles gave away an unnecessary freekick and then McLoughlin got his wall wrong, Coulson, amusingly announced by the PA guy as the ‘Cryuff of the Crescent’ able to bend the ball around the wall and beat McLoughlin on ‘his side.’
John McCombe really should have made it two seconds later, but the Exiles never truly looked like equalising despite the introduction of Mike Flynn and a tame effort from Zebroski was their last.
It ends a largely disappointing campaign on the road and if Newport want to emulate York next term by going from relegation candidates to top seven finishers, they’ll need to be far more clinical in front of goal away from Rodney Parade.
York (4-4-2): Pope, Oyebanjo, Davies, Lowe, McCombe, Penn, Montrose (Hayhurst 71), Brobbel (Bowman 65), Reed, Andrew, Coulson
Subs not used: McGurk, Jarvis, Platt, Allan, Ingham
County (4-1-2-3): McLoughlin, Jackson, Sandell (O’Connor 44), Hughes, Feely, Porter, Minshull, Chapman (Flynn 84), Willmott, Jolley (Jeffers 71), Zebroski
Referee: Jeremy Simpson (Lancashire)
Attendance: 4531 (222 away)