COUNTY 0 STOCKPORT 0
WE WILL probably need to wait until the end of April to assess whether Saturday’s hard fought 0-0 draw in the battle of the Counties constituted a point gained or two dropped.
The Exiles will feel they did enough to win a cagey affair with a seemingly perfectly good goal disallowed and a penalty appeal turned down adding to the feeling of frustration.
Looking at it more objectively, however, this was a contest I have no doubt Newport would have lost last season, their frustration and inability to break the deadlock leading to a sloppy moment where they’d have been punished.
And if they are honest they’ll surely reflect that they were well below the stunning standards set earlier in the campaign, Newport only performing to their best in fits and starts which allowed a well-organised and disciplined Stockport to claim the point they wanted.
Newport began the contest far the better side and certainly ended it firmly in the ascendancy as chance after chance came and went with another fine Rodney Parade crowd willing the ball into the net.
However, it was what came in between that will cause concern, the Exiles a bit like an M.Night Shyamalan film with an intriguing beginning and a fascinating ending but very little in between to hold your attention.
The Exiles didn’t play to their own strengths for large periods in between their frenetic start and finish with too much long ball football that played into Stockport’s hands.
Boss Justin Edinburgh readily admitted his side had played too directly for much of the contest and it was unfortunate because when County passed and moved the ball quickly they were impressive.
Chief among the architects was 18-year-old Lee Evans who continues to shine despite being pre-school in terms of his footballing education.
His range of passing and desire to have the ball is reminiscent of Aaron Ramsey and Joe Allen and at this stage it’s far from ridiculous to state he could emulate both in playing at the highest level.
The Exiles will also feel more than pleased with the way they defended despite the absence of arguably their best defender so far this season, Ismail Yakubu.
Another academy graduate, Andrew Hughes, returned to the side and barely put a foot wrong, his performance far more controlled and practical than his audacious new hairstyle.
Newport were the more ambitious side early on and Andy Sandell crashed a couple of piledrivers wide as they foraged forward.
Aaron O’Connor – very quiet by his high standards – wasted a decent opportunity by snatching at an effort on the turn on 15 minutes before Jefferson Louis latched onto David Pipe’s clever ball over the top, goalkeeper Ian Ormson saved by his post.
The visitors were barely threatening at all but when they did, Danny Whitehead striking fiercely, it took a superb block from Mike Flynn to keep the scores level.
Louis headed over as County attempted to maintain their momentum, but Jim Gannon’s side finished the first half much the stronger and only a superb save by Lenny Pidgeley denied Sam Sheridan.
The second period settled into a similar pattern, County not really threatening too much save for some headed chances for Louis that never really looked like producing the breakthrough.
Not until an injection of width and pace on 70 minutes when Ben Swallow was introduced for Flynn did Newport really look like plundering all three points, Stockport forced deeper and deeper as the Exiles turned the screw.
Ormson saved magificently from Evans’ dipping, curling effort and from the resulting corner that was well worked Sandell flashed wide.
The Exiles thought they’d scored when O’Connor tapped in after Ormson’s fumble, but the referee’s assistant flagged for a foul on the goalkeeper, more perhaps out of habit than because of a foul as it appeared a legitimate goal.
Hughes hit the side netting from another corner and Evans’ dipping volley went over the top as County pushed and pushed for a winner.
They pushed so hard they might have lost, but sub Alex Meaney rattled the crossbar with a late effort that would’ve given Stockport three points they would barely have deserved.
They could still have lost too, Danny Crow tumbling over in the box in injury time with what looked like a shove to the back. Arguably the theatrics of the fall to the ground didn’t help but he should’ve been booked for diving if it was no penalty.
The high fives and back slaps at the final whistle from Stockport showed it was mission accomplished for them, but County might yet end up reflecting on a point gained come the end of the campaign.
County: Pidgeley, Pipe, Sandell, Hughes, James, Porter, Evans, Flynn (Swallow 69), O’Connor, Crow, Louis (Minshull 81)
Subs not used: Thomson, Harris, Perry
Stockport: Ormson, Newton, O’Connor, Tunniclife, Whitehead, Kenyon, Hattersley (Meaney 66), Hobson (Halls 76), Sheridan, Nolan (Darkwah 51), Fagbola
Subs not used: Rowe, King
Referee: Charles Breakspear (Walton-on-Thames)