FOREST GREEN 1 NEWPORT COUNTY 2
CHRISTMAS might have been and gone but it’s still the season to be jolly for Newport County AFC after a fantastic win at promotion rivals Forest Green Rovers.
Goals from substitutes Ben Swallow and Ryan Charles turned a dour match on its head after Steve Brogan’s opener for the hosts and ensured County kept pace with Blue Square Bet Premier leaders Grimsby Town.
Justin Edinburgh’s men certainly rode their luck but the win proved there is life after Christian Jolley as Swallow and Charles both showed that, on their day, they have the talent to fill the departed winger’s boots.
Not that most Exiles fans would have been thinking that way after an hour with Jolley’s inspiration sorely missing before the introduction of the super subs.
Boxing Day is traditionally a day to get out of the house and blow away the cobwebs and County had more than most having not played since the 5-2 win over Luton Town on December 11.
That inactivity showed in a first hour dominated by the home side at a cold and wet New Lawn.
Exiles boss Edinburgh sprang a surprise by handing Conor Washington his first start up front in place of Jolley, who had scored twice in the rout of Luton before being recalled to his parent club AFC Wimbledon.
The youngster was tasked with linking up with Michael Smith and top scorer Aaron O’Connor but the trio were well marshalled by the home defence and with little service they didn’t trouble goalkeeper Sam Russell before the break.
After a scrappy opening 15 minutes Rovers clicked into gear and County had the excellent Alan Julian to thank for keeping the scores level.
The much-maligned stopper saved well from Brogan, Jan Klukowski and James Norwood in quick succession.
Left-back Andrew Hughes was caught out of position on more than one occasion and all the players struggled with the greasy turf as the heavens opened in the Gloucestershire hills.
Ismail Yakubu lost his footing after half an hour, allowing Matty Taylor to run at Tony James and his shot was palmed over by Julian.
And in first half stoppage time the goalkeeper did superbly to tip a shot from Jared Hodgkiss onto the bar before colliding with the post as the whistle blew for the break.
He had very little chance with the opening goal, however, as the hosts took less than two minutes after the interval to get the goal they deserved.
Left-back Chris Stokes got forward and delivered a fantastic cross for Brogan to expertly volley home from ten yards out.
Max Porter went very close to lashing home an equaliser five minutes later but his long range effort sailed just wide of Russell’s far post.
County pushed forward but Forest Green continued to look the most likely to score with Stokes causing more problems down the left flank and Julian having to be at his very best to keep his side in it.
Edinburgh threw on Swallow and Charles for the disappointing Smith and Washington in the search for inspiration and they provided it in bucketfuls.
Swallow immediately made a difference and looked determined to prove a point. He quickly had County’s first shot on target after more than an hour, even if Russell gathered with ease.
That should have been the case when Swallow stepped up to take a corner with 20 minutes remaining but Russell somehow failed to gather the low centre and fumbled the ball into his own net at the near post and the scores were level.
It was very much against the run of play but County made the most of their good fortune and two minutes later they were ahead.
Swallow’s fellow sub Charles collected the ball some 35 yards out on the right wing and cut inside two defenders before letting fly with an unstoppable left foot drive into the bottom corner of Russell’s net.
It was without a doubt the best moment of the striker’s disappointing stint in a County shirt and his strike sent the 1,029 travelling fans into ecstasy.
In between the two goals Hughes had cleared a shot off the line at the other end and Forest Green continued to threaten with former Spytty Park favourite Jamie Collins to the fore.
But Porter cleared another one off the line, Jamie Turley was sent off after receiving a second yellow card, and Edinburgh’s men held on for a vital win that sets them up perfectly for another huge clash at Hereford United on Saturday.
Forest Green: Russell, Hodgkiss, Stokes, Turley, Klukowski (Styche, 78), Collins, Taylor, Norwood (Vieira, 87), Racine, Green (Bangura, 78), Brogan
Booked: Turley, Norwood
Subs not used: Oshodi, Jarvis
County: Julian, Pipe (Anthony, 90), Hughes, James, Yakubu, Porter, Evans, Flynn, O’Connor, Smith (Swallow, 61), Washington (Charles, 61)
Subs not used: Minshull, Pidgeley
Booked: Yakubu, Pipe
Referee: Wayne Barratt (Worcestershire)
Attendance: 2,332 (1,029 County)
Argus star man: Alan Julian