Last-gasp County get out of jail in classic FA Cup thriller

South Wales Argus: RELIEF: County's Tony James heads in the equaliser. Picture: Sam Shingler RELIEF: County's Tony James heads in the equaliser. Picture: Sam Shingler

YATE 3 COUNTY 3

HALLOWE’EN is almost upon us and Newport County gave their supporters both a trick and a treat on Saturday as they came back from the dead at Lodge Road.

A dominant County surged into a 1-0 lead and were in complete control of an embarrassingly one-sided encounter as the travelling fans enjoyed a real treat with Newport mounting 15 attempts at goal.

However, the trick was yet to come as the hosts, three divisions below Newport and bottom of the Division One South & West in the Evo-Stik Southern League, stormed back with three goals in 20 minutes.

This pulsating FA Cup tie looked to be heading the way of so many others for County, Paulton Rovers the most recent, before their scarcely credible comeback rescued them from what would’ve been an embarrassing result.

Say what you will for how poor Newport were in the second half – and we will – but immense credit is deserved for showing the will and the fight to resurrect what looked a hopeless situation. Newport County have mental fortitude.

And it’s a good job. Because for all the accolades we’ll rightly give Newport for what a fantastic season they are producing, at times on Saturday they were nothing short of dreadful.

It almost seemed impossible at half-time to even consider anything other than a County victory, and for them to implode as they did was disconcerting as the hosts tore one of the meanest defences in the Conference to shreds.

These are part-time footballers, postmen, teachers and students, though one at least was a familiar face, Yate’s right-back in Tom Warren, younger brother of ex-County skipper Gary.

By way of perspective we should point out that the equivalent gulf in positions between the two teams is like a non-league version of Barnet v Chelsea, and as such the first half very much went to script.

The Exiles, who fielded the strongest side they could, injuries permitting, gave Yate a lesson in ball retention that quickly led to the first goal.

Two successive corners weren’t fully dealt with and from the second Ben Swallow was able to steal a yard and swing in a perfect cross that Jefferson Louis nodded home.

A regulation goal for a regulation afternoon where supremacy was surely going to out eventually, yet never did.

Sure, County should’ve gone clear, having as they did 14 unanswered chances in the first half alone, but they couldn’t capitalise.

That was down to a combination of bad finishing and sensational goalkeeping, Josh Dempsey flinging himself all over his goal to deny Aaron O’Connor, Lee Evans twice, Jake Thomson twice and Louis, all of whom came close.

A deflected James cross cannoned off the bar when Yate needed some luck and other chances were missed completely as Newport failed to hit the target.

Such was the gulf at the break the scenes afterwards were all the more remarkable as Yate came within a whisker of a famous victory.

They got level with their first chance in the contest, Tom Knighton poking home a free kick cleverly flicked on at the far post.

The Exiles were suddenly a bag of nerves and needed time to regain their composure. But when Max Porter hesitated and Lenny Pidgeley went walkabout to win a ball that was never his, Knighton lobbed into the path of Mitch Page, who couldn’t fail to put Yate in dreamland and Newport even further into the mire.

They thought they’d equalised when Sandell’s cross was headed in firmly by Louis, but the official saw a push.

It proved a crucial moment, another long ball again causing problems and Matt Groves, impressive all afternoon, sped away, nutmegging the despairing Lee Minshull as he unerringly rolled the ball into the bottom corner of the net.

It appeared a killer moment for the Exiles, but in this campaign County just don’t know when they are beaten and so it proved once more.

Minshull was sent up top as an emergency striker for the first time since the FA Trophy final at Wembley and it caused panic at the back for the hosts, who had looked more and more assured.

Jake Harris, Ryan Charles and O’Connor all fizzed around behind him and with less than 90 seconds of the game left O’Connor swivelled beautifully and fired home a goal to get Newport back into things.

The board then conveyed the message of five more minutes to be added on for stoppages, and that rather generous award allowed County one final chance.

Successive corners followed, and from the second – perfectly weighted from Thomson – James rose imperiously to give the Exiles the most unlikely of draws. The giant-killing headlines belong to somebody else.

Yate: Dempsey, Warren, Barnes, Purnell, Thomas, Wring (Meaker 90), Groves, Vahid, Page (Bryant 90), Knighton, Hiroli.

Subs not used: Price, Sarr.

Booked: Barnes.

County: Pidgeley, Porter, Sandell, James, Minshull, Flynn (Harris 72), Evans, Thomson, Swallow, O’Connor, Louis (Charles 62).

Subs not used: Perry, Patten, Fielden, Jones.

Referee: Mr M Bull.

Attendance: 1,190.

Argus man of the match: Josh Dempsey (Yate) 9/10.

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