SOUTHEND UTD 0 NEWPORT COUNTY 0
NEWPORT County AFC got their League Two promotion push back on track with a battling point at play-off rivals Southend United.
It might have been better for Justin Edinburgh’s men had Robbie Willmott not blazed his penalty into the stands early in the second half.
But after a tough January for the Exiles this was a welcome point on the road in terrible conditions once again.
Edinburgh made two changes from the defeat at Bristol Rovers with new striker Shaun Jeffers handed a debut up front in place of Christian Jolley and Ryan Jackson making way for Adam Chapman on his return from suspension.
The Exiles boss also ditched the flat back four and returned to his favoured 5-3-2 formation with captain David Pipe shifting to right wing-back and Willmott back on the other flank.
There was not much change in the conditions, however, as the rain continues to follow County wherever they go at present.
It was a minor miracle that the game went ahead with the whole country on flood alert and the Roots Hall pitch was not a pretty picture by the time the sides emerged from the warmth of the dressing rooms.
Understandably it was not an occasion for total football and players on both sides struggled to keep their feet as the rain continued to lash down.
Attractive passing football was at a premium but County started confidently with Chapman linking well with Ryan Burge in the middle.
Harry Worley had the first effort on goal and his shot from just inside the area was heading for the bottom corner before home defender Mark Phillips got a leg in the way to prevent an early goal.
Andy Sandell and Chapman both saw speculative long range efforts sail into the second tier of the stand behind Daniel Bentley’s goal as the visitors continued to push forward.
And new boy Jeffers went down in the box claiming a push in the back but referee James Linington waved away the penalty appeals.
As the first half wore on and the rain eased off the Shrimpers came out of their shell.
County were thankful to goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, complete with broken thumb, for helping them to the break on level terms.
First he did brilliantly to deny Will Atkinson from point blank range after half an hour as the Southend man headed goalwards and Pidgeley somehow diverted it onto the post and away to safety.
The Exiles stopper then beat away a fierce drive from Barry Corr before showing brilliant reflexes to divert the ball around the post after Lee Barnard’s header was deflected towards the bottom corner.
But if the hosts were slightly unlucky not to lead at the break they were very fortunate not to be behind seven minutes after the restart.
The impressive Burge surged through the middle of the Southend defence, shrugging off two challenges before being hauled down by Phillips in the box.
The home defender somehow avoided a card - red or yellow - but the referee was in no doubt about the award of the penalty.
And after Sandell’s last gasp spot kick was saved in the defeat to Northampton at the start of the month the penalty duties fell to Willmott.
And it’s fair to say Chapman or Rene Howe might take the next one after the wing-back blasted his effort high and wide and halfway down the A127.
The Southend fans, frustrated by what they perceived as County’s time wasting, saw that as justice done but the visitors were on top at that stage.
Phil Brown brought on Welsh international Freddy Eastwood as his troops began to look jaded after last week’s FA Cup tie against Premier League Hull City and a local derby with Dagenham & Redbridge on Tuesday.
Edinburgh also turned to fresh legs with Max Porter replacing Chapman and Jolley coming on for Jeffers.
It was a frustrating debut for the 21-year-old who arrived this week as part of the deal that saw Conor Washington sold to Peterborough United.
He did nothing wrong but with little service and a poor surface it was hard for him to make a great first impression.
Jeffers and the whole County squad will be delighted to get back to Rodney Parade where they play four of their next five games – if it ever stops raining!
Southend: Bentley, White, Coker, Phillips, Timlin (Clifford, 75), Corr (Straker, 46), Atkinson, Hurst, Leonard, Thompson, Barnard (Eastwood, 61)
Subs not used: Laird, Payne, Gomis, Smith
County: Pidgeley, Pipe, Worley, Naylor, Sandell, Willmott, Minshull, Chapman (Porter, 71), Burge (Flynn, 82), Howe, Jeffers (Jolley, 73)
Subs not used: Stephens, Hughes, Jackson, Anthony
Referee: James Linington
Attendance: 5,993 (165 County)
Argus star man: Pidgeley