ENZO Maccarinelli might have fallen short in his bid to become a real life Rocky Balboa on Saturday night, but Newport County fans will certainly have enjoyed their own redemption story this weekend.
It’s been a long and painful return to action for midfielder Max Porter, a test of character as Newport’s best player by a distance in 2012 became nothing more than a spectator during the most exciting season for the club in a quarter of a century.
The tough-tackling midfielder couldn’t play his part as County bid farewell to the non-league pyramid and his return at the start of the season proved a false dawn as problems stemming from an initial diagnosis Gilmore’s Groin threatened his career.
It has taken a change in personnel at the club, several dozen trips to St George’s Park and more medical appointments than the biggest hypochondriac would receive, but finally Porter’s back to his best and on Saturday he capped it with a superb display.
It was fitting that Porter and Mike Flynn, County’s two best players at the Proact Stadium (a ground fit for the Championship, incidentally) combined beautifully to rescue a point for the Exiles, and a vital one at that.
Porter has bemoaned, with refreshing honesty, his bittersweet feelings at Newport’s promotion, feeling like he was a passenger despite playing 26 games up until January 2013.
He need not have any similar feelings about Newport’s battle to ensure their Football League survival in their first season back. He may well have scored the goal the most vital goal of the campaign.
This was nothing more than a bonus game, County’s plight in 2014 ensuring that a play-off spot is out of reach and having looked so fragile defensively and so short of spark in attack, there could’ve been few who anticipated the Exiles avoiding defeat at a side who for large spells played League One Peterborough off the pitch at Wembley a week previously in the final of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy.
Indeed, even now, there is a necessity to pick up a few more points to absolutely ensure County don’t slip out of the Football League, but on Saturday’s evidence, there is little cause for concern.
The Exiles have won only two of their last eighteen games, but on balance, their performances have improved to a degree recently (Mansfield and Morecambe aside) and on Saturday they produced one of their bravest and most impressive displays not just in 2014, but in the entire campaign.
Chesterfield have lost only twice at home all season and no side in League Two has a better defensive record in front of their own crowd, quite a test for a team as short on confidence as County.
You’d have to assume the late draw felt like a win for Edinburgh’s men whose efforts were unquestionable.
It’s tough to say whether they merited the result, Chesterfield unquestionably the dominant force in a one sided second half where Newport scored with their only chance.
However, over the 90 minutes, the Exiles competed in every aspect of the game. They had an admirable 48% share of possession and in the first half, produced the better football and the better chances.
This was a below par display from the Spireites who allowed Newport to snarl away at them, Porter, Flynn and Lee Minshull relentless in the pursuit of keeping possession and the result was an incredible number of missed passes from the hosts, who were roundly booed by their own fans at the final whistle.
County had the earliest opportunity in the match when Shaun Jeffers curled just wide after showing neat control and genuine strength to bounce off his marker.
Jeffers went close again with County’s best move of the match, teed up by Robbie Willmott and Flynn to again produce a fine curling effort, this one diverted over expertly by Tommy Lee.
Chesterfield were largely restricted to long range efforts before the interval and Ian McLoughlin had no issues, but he was caught cold by Jimmy Ryan on 49 minutes.
The Exiles failed to clear successive corners and Ryan advanced menacingly, clipping a beauty – if he meant it – over McLoughlin, who was a step or two too far advanced to make the save.
Newport have made a recent habit of imploding on the road after a setback and they nearly did so again, Chesterfield having two goals within 90 seconds ruled out for offside before substitute Marc Richards missed a glorious chance when he did beat the flag, failing to chip McLoughlin who spread himself extremely well.
That was the moment County coach Wayne Hatswell turned to boss Edinburgh and remarked “that will cost them,” and with seven minutes remaining, he was proved correct.
Robbie Willmott crossed and when Chesterfield only blocked rather than cleared, Flynn was quickest to the loose ball, holding off Ian Evatt and pulling the ball back neatly for Porter to curl home from 20 yards, his first goal since earning Newport a point against Wrexham 14 months ago.
County have drawn five of their last ten and many would debate long into the night as to whether those results represented precious points gained or two squandered.
There will be no such debate about Saturday.
Chesterfield: (4-2-3-1): Lee, Darikwa, Humphreys, Evatt, Cooper, Ryan, Morsy, Kearns (Hird 71), O’Shea (Bennett 85), Roberts, Doyle (Richards 75)
Subs not used: Dunbavin, Smith, Gardner, Gnanduillet
Newport (4-3-3): McLoughlin, Jackson, Hughes, Yakubu, Feely, Porter, Minshull (Naylor 84) Flynn, Zebroski (Jolley 64) Willmott, Jeffers (Howe 64)
Subs not used: Pipe, Sandell, Burge, Holloway
Referee: Simon Hooper