5:32pm Sunday 30th March 2008
By Michael Pearlman
AT a stage of the season where results mean everything, Newport County produced a performance to be proud of with a splendid victory at Bognor Regis Town.
This was a display from a side very clearly playing to protect their manager Peter Beadle, of a group of players tired of the tag of bottlers.' They might have lost three games in a car crash Easter period, but on Saturday the Exiles looked every inch a side in the Blue Square South promotion race for the long haul.
From back to front County were impressive, they outworked their opponents and played with a tempo and physicality that meant they were always in control of the game.
Most pleasing of all was the way in which they maintained possession, Julian Alsop started but the Exiles never resorted to their tiresome tactic of bombarding the giant striker, he was used only as an outlet.
Several of the players so cumbersome over Easter played themselves back in to form - sheer hard work allowing Richard Evans and Lee Jarman in particular to really shine.
Evans was a constant menace, as useful in helping to defend as breaking clear, this was his best game of the campaign.
In central midfield Lee Fowler and Andy Gurney combined to more than compensate for the loss of Nathan Davies, who failed a fitness test on a strained hamstring.
Gurney was neat and tidy, keeping the Exiles on the front foot by picking his passes intelligently.
Fowler was excellent, he not only broke up play and started attacking moves, he also supported the front two and capped his display with a quite magnificent goal.
In attack Charlie Griffin and Alsop worked doggedly, a goal probably all it would take to see Griffin back to his best.
Paul Cochlin returned to the side and re-established his double act with Jarman, no doubt helped by the return of Glyn Thompson in goal.
As he has been all season, Thompson was terrific.
Though Bognor efforts on goal were few and far between, Thompson dealt with everything and produced a truly stunning save early on.
With confidence so fragile coming into this contest an early goal might have been a season killer, so the former Fulham man's return is certainly welcome.
The Exiles might already have led before Thompson's stop, but Cochlin's glancing header on four minutes hit the wrong side of the post from Gurney's free kick.
Seconds later and Gurney's mistake saw Bognor break, but Jarman tidied up and after David Birmingham tamely chipped over Thompson.
On 11 minutes County fashioned their best opportunity of the first period, but Griffin - having done so well to control a high ball and cut inside his marker - blazed over.
At that stage it was nip and tuck and Thompson's wonder save on 14 minutes proved vital.
Top class build-up from Bognor put Seb Wallis-Taylor clear and his rifled left-footed effort from close range was tipped around the post by Thompson, who flung himself at full stretch to deflect the ball with one arm.
Jarman headed wide from another Gurney free kick, before referee Lee Collins turned down a soft penalty appeal from the Rocks after Bowen's challenge on Birmingham.
Defender Duncan Jupp also came close, firing just wide with a speculative volley from distance.
The Exiles needed to increase the tempo of the contest after the break and preceded the home side out of the tunnel by around two minutes.
This encouraging sign soon turned to something more tangible, sustained pressure culminating in Evans delivering an excellent ball from the left-flank.
With both Alsop and Griffin ready to connect, defender Duncan Jupp rashly handled and Collins pointed to the spot, Bowen, calm as ever, wrong-footing goalkeeper Craig Stoner with his trademark shuffle.
The home side fashioned a great chance on the hour with another lovely move, but Dan Beck screwed his shot wide after Mark Knee's exquisite build-up.
It was a decisive moment, County doubling their advantage three minutes later.
This goal was as good as any the side have scored this season.
Bowen maintained possession before releasing Steve Jenkins on the overlap, his cross superbly back-heeled by substitute Craig Hughes into the path of Fowler, who bent his run beautifully anticipating Hughes' touch.
There was still work to do as he went clear, but he dispatched the ball into the bottom right hand corner of the net with ease.
The Exiles were utterly dominant from then on - much to the relief of the travelling 300 or so fans who outnumbered the home support.
Evans' lung-busting run on 70 minutes, following Fowler's well weighted pace forced Stoner to save, Evans finally showing an end product after weeks of underachievement, on-song he really is a talent.
Hughes just missed the far post with ten minutes remaining, but it didn't matter, County were always in control and closed out the contest.
An interested observer was Cardiff City's young defender Matt Smith, he travelled with the Exiles and is expected to sign today on loan for the rest of the season following an unsuccessful trial with Swansea City.
Bognor: Stoner, Oastler (Greatwich 79), Wallis-Taylor, Breach, Jupp, Pearson, Birmingham (Chamberlain 56), Knee, Beck, Sankoh, Haddow Subs not used: Balfe, Harris, Dunk Booked: Pearson (foul, 50), Birmingham (foul, 58), Jupp (foul, 85) County: Thompson, Jenkins, Searle, Gurney, Jarman, Cochlin, Bowen, Fowler, Alsop (Hughes 58), Griffin (Clarke 88), Evans Subs not used: Pennock, Hillier, O'Sullivan Booked: Gurney (dissent, 68) Referee: Lee Collins (Ash Vale) Attendance: 521
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