County in control in 1-0 win
IT MIGHT have been tense in the closing moments but overall this was about as comfortable as a 1-0 win ever gets.
Newport County AFC only had Andy Sandell’s penalty to show for their dominance but a desperately disappointing Bristol Rovers couldn’t have complained if the winning margin had been tripled.
It’s too early in the season to talk of Rodney Parade being a fortress for County but their League Two rivals certainly won’t relish their trip over the Severn Bridge over the next nine months.
Rovers of course had a shorter journey than anyone else and came with a much better pedigree than Accrington Stanley two weeks earlier but they were lucky not to suffer the same battering as the Lancastrians.
This first Severnside derby since May 1987 created a fantastic atmosphere despite the wind and rain but it was a one-sided affair.
County moved onto six points from nine and they can look forward to the trip to Dagenham & Redbridge with confidence, while their opponents are still seeking their first win of a campaign that promised so much.
Exiles boss Justin Edinburgh sprang a surprise by recalling goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley ahead of schedule but the Pirates were so toothless that it’s only a slight exaggeration to say that Gary Plumley could have kept them out.
Pidgeley didn’t put a foot or a hand wrong and looked a calming influence on his defence as the visitors upped the pressure late on but he wasn’t required to make a save of note all afternoon.
The action was almost exclusively at the other end as the hosts, inspired by a raucous crowd, tore into their old rivals.
Wing-backs Sandell and David Pipe, both playing against their former club, rampaged forward and caused the visitors all sorts of problems.
Chris Zebroski, another former Pirates player, twice went within inches of adding to his two goals on opening day.
Christian Jolley saw a goal-bound effort blocked by the stomach of Mark McChrystal and further efforts from Zebroski, Lee Minshull and Robbie Willmott were somehow kept out by a frantic visiting defence and their impressive goalkeeper Steve Mildenhall.
John Ward’s side were hanging on by a thread and their resistance was finally broken three minutes before the break when captain Tom Parkes sent Jolley flying in the box.
Sandell slammed the ball past Mildenhall to put to bed thoughts of a repeat of the defeat at Northampton Town when County had started superbly but been punished for not taking their chances.
Rovers improved slightly in the second half but never seriously threatened to deny Edinburgh’s men the three points.
Ellis Harrison, who later apologized to Rovers fans on Twitter for his performance, started brightly but ultimately failed to shine in the city of his birth.
And the much vaunted John-Joe O’Toole was kept quiet with David Clarkson going closest to beating Pidgeley with a close-range effort that was well blocked by Harry Worley.
County could have killed the game off and eased the nerves of the home fans in the second half but they found Mildenhall in fine form.
The Rovers keeper did everything he could to keep his side in the game, saving superbly from a Zebroski header and an attempted chip by substitute Conor Washington.
Referee Lee Collins could have awarded another penalty as well when Worley’s header appeared to hit a Rovers hand in the box.
But with Worley, Andrew Hughes and new signing Tom Naylor imperious in defence there was no need for a second goal.
County: Pidgeley, Sandell, Pipe, Hughes, Naylor, Worley, Minshull, Chapman, Willmott (Flynn, 88), Zebroski 7 (Crow, 84), Jolley (Washington, 69)
Subs not used: Stephens, Jackson, Porter
Booked: Pipe, Willmott
Rovers: Mildenhall, Smith, Parkes, Clarkson (Santos, 65), Richards, Brown, Nolburn, Harrison, McChrystal, Lockyer, O’Toole (Brunt, 72)
Subs not used: Kenneth, Gill, Gough, Hunter, Southway
Referee: Lee Collins