Draw feels like a defeat for the unlucky Exiles
COUNTY 2 TAMWORTH 2
THIS was a draw that felt like a defeat for Newport County AFC and another result that seriously damaged their promotion hopes.
With their Blue Square Bet Premier rivals Grimsby Town, Wrexham and Kidder-minster Harriers all winning, Saturday felt like a significant day in the race for a place in the Football League.
County slumped to fifth, eight points off top spot, and they will relinquish their play-off place if a rampant Mansfield Town can win at Rodney Parade tomorrow night.
The Exiles still have two games in hand on all the teams above them but they know that they cannot afford to have too many more off days between now and the end of April.
Not that Saturday was an off day, certainly not in comparison to the last match at home to Barrow.
That is why the end result was so frustrating.
County were unlucky not to beat a limited Tamworth side, who rarely threatened to get back into the game after falling 2-0 behind inside half an hour, and will rightly feel a strong sense of injustice over the baffling penalty decision that cost them the win.
It all began so brightly. Deadline day signing Scott Donnelly started his Exiles career in superb style with a goal after just 30 seconds and delivered a hugely encouraging all-round display.
Top scorer Aaron O’Connor didn’t seem to be missed early on and when Byron Anthony, in for tonsillitis victim Tony James, doubled the home side’s lead after half an hour with an expertly taken goal it looked like three points were in the bank.
There were even thoughts of a first clean sheet since October 9 with recalled goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley a virtual bystander for much of the first hour of the match.
But County sat on their lead, inviting the Lambs to gambol forward, and events conspired to punish Edinburgh’s men.
The match changed when Pidgeley suffered a calf injury and Alan Julian, who had been dropped to the bench, was thrown into action with just under 20 minutes remaining.
Such is Julian’s luck at the moment that he hadn’t even touched the ball before it was in the net.
Ex-England man Lee Hendrie let fly from the edge of the box and saw his shot deflected in past a blameless Julian.
Rodney Parade was immediately transformed into a cauldron of nervous energy and the visitors sensed that they could take advantage.
And when substitute Ben Swallow and Danny Crow both wasted good opportunities at the other end to make it 3-1 it was time for referee Kevin Johnson to take centre stage.
In the third minute of six added on for stoppages Anthony and skipper David Pipe challenged for the ball in the area and Tamworth sub Kyle Perry went down under minimal contact.
Johnson stunned the crowd and most of the players when he awarded a penalty and there was never any doubt that Adam Cunnington would slot home to light the blue touch paper.
The County supporters greeted the final whistle with a loud chorus of boos for the referee and Edinburgh stormed onto the pitch to vent his fury.
He then watched the incident on DVD and waited the required 30 minutes before another angry exchange with the official in his dressing room.
His side only had themselves to blame for defeats to Barrow, Forest Green Rovers, Hyde, Alfreton Town and Woking this season but this result hurt even more because they were denied victory by a poor decision from the referee.
But, hard done by or not, the record books will show that Tamworth earned a point and County simply have to start grinding out wins before the promotion dream slips from their grasp.
County: Pidgeley (Julian, 72), Pipe, Sandell, Anthony, Yakubu, Minshull, Flynn, Donnelly (Swallow, 82), Willmott, Jolley (Washington, 88), Crow
Subs not used: James, Evans
Tamworth: Breeden, Kelly, Marshall, Cunnington, L.Hendrie, Wright, Kerry (Byfield, 45), Courtney, Gudger, Lloyd (Perry, 78), Thorpe (Oji, 37)
Subs not used: Wren, S.Hendrie
Referee: Kevin Johnson