County’s silk and steel, the stuff of true champions – Hyde 0 Newport County 1
THIS was, appropriately enough, a real Jekyll and Hyde performance from Newport County.
The Exiles showed the silky and the steely sides of their game, elements that have combined over the season to make them genuine title contenders.
Controlled and dominant before the break when Christian Jolley scored the only goal with a delightful lob, Justin Edinburgh’s men were forced to show plenty of grit and determination in a scrappy second 45 minutes to hold on for a vital three points.
Champions have to adapt throughout a campaign and often in the course of each match and County have proved time and again that they can do just that.
And, make no mistake, four straight wins as we enter the business end of the season is the stuff of champions.
It is, of course, far too early to crown Jolley and Co just yet but with leaders Wrexham dropping points on Saturday they are undeniably in a great position with games in hand over all their title rivals.
County face trips to Hereford, Ebbsfleet and Hartlepool, where they finally take on Gateshead, all in the next week in what is shaping up to be a season-defining seven days.
Edinburgh will no doubt publically urge caution but his side is hitting form at just the right time and confidence and momentum can go a long way as the season reaches a thrilling climax.
And with key players Aaron O’Connor and Max Porter close to returning and Rhys Griffiths yet to start there is plenty more to come from this squad.
Hyde’s Ewen Fields stadium had a makeover in 2010 from mega-rich neighbours Manchester City, who use the ground for their reserve fixtures, but even England’s number one Joe Hart would have struggled to keep out Jolley’s winner. It came as early as the tenth minute from a lightning quick counter attack following Lenny Pidgeley’s smart save from Jamie Milligan at the other end.
The ball was cleared to Jolley wide on the right and the January signing from AFC Wimbledon saw home goalkeeper David Carnell off his line and produced a beautiful lob from 20 yards out that arched perfectly just under the bar before caressing the back of the net.
Midway through the first half he almost made it two with a sublime dipping volley from just outside the area, which Carnell did brilliantly to tip over the bar.
Danny Crow had the ball in the net but his strike was ruled out for a foul on the keeper by Ismail Yakubu and at the other end ex-Everton man Phil Jevons scooped Hyde’s best chance wide.
After the break it was all change as the Tigers showed their claws and County conceded the initiative but, crucially, they didn’t concede a goal.
The hosts piled the pressure on and created problems for the Exiles with Milligan’s expert delivery from free-kicks and corners but the five-man defence held firm to secure a second clean sheet in four games.
The closest Hyde came to scoring was when Matt Blinkhorn’s header was cleared off the line by Lee Minshull just after the break and, even though the closing stages were nervy for the travelling fans, County held on comfortably enough.
Keep this up and they could be on their way to their very own Treasure Island with a return to the Football League a real possibility now.
Hyde: Carnell, Brizell, Griffin (Broadbent, 84), Lomax, Ashworth, Brown, Sedgwick (McCarten, 60), Tomsett, Blinkhorn, Jevons (Spencer, 80), Milligan Subs not used: Poole, Cassidy Booked: Tomsett, Ashworth, Brizell County: Pidgeley, Pipe, James, Yakubu, Anthony, Sandell, Flynn, Minshull, Donnelly (Thomson, 63), Jolley, Crow (Griffiths, 81) Subs not used: Julian, Hughes, Willmott Booked: Sandell Referee: Graham Horwood