COUNTY 1 BURTON 1
NEWPORT County produced one of their best performances of the campaign today as their status as a League Two club was confirmed for next season.
Defeats for Bristol Rovers, Northampton and Wycombe have rubber-stamped Newport’s survival and they responded with a splendid display in a contest the majority inside Rodney Parade felt was tainted by the performance of referee Brendan Malone.
His award of a hotly-disputed penalty transformed this contest and left Newport to rue the fact their dominance didn’t equate to three points in a contest few would’ve predicted they’d compete in, let alone largely dominant, the only surprise they were unable to build-on Andy Sandell’s thunderbolt opener.
The Exiles are approaching a period in the campaign where only pride and momentum for next season are at stake and in the opening 45 minutes it was abundantly clear that the Newport were a team playing like they’d been released from shackles.
They were bright, vibrant and positive whereas the visitors, who very much were dealing with a pressure occasion as they tried desperately to remain in touch with the automatic promotion chasers in League Two.
The injured Rene Howe was replaced by the more mobile Robbie Willmott and the return of two long-term absentees, Aaron O’Connor on the bench and goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley making a first start since January, increased further the feel-good factor at Rodney Parade on an initially sun-kissed afternoon. For the first time in a long time, Newport had beach weather to accompany their sandy surface.
And they started like a side secure in their objectives while Burton were often hesitant and struggled to settle into their normal passing game.
Newport attacked the problematic end of the pitch in the first period and went ahead after just five minutes, full-back Andy Sandell able to get forward smartly and drill home characteristically from fully 25-yards as goalkeeper Dean Lyness was beaten at his near post.
The goal didn’t result in any let-up from Newport who pushed for a second against the high-flyers, Zebroski seeing an effort blocked at the last second and Mike Flynn firing just wide as the Exiles made a mockery of their recent woes.
It took a full 30 minutes for the visitors to become a threat and when they did Newport had a real let-off, Michael Symes able to shoot after Pidgeley spilt the ball, but Darcy Blake made a splendid stop.
Blake was making life exceedingly difficult for the visiting attackers, before he was adjudged to have given away a hotly disputed penalty.
Rodney Parade was awash with anger after the 36th minute incident, Dominic Knowles flinging himself to the ground after minimal, if any contact from Blake. Symes, a former youth striker at Everton alongside Wayne Rooney, calmly sent Pidgeley the wrong way.
However, Newport finished the half strongly, a combination of David Gray and the post denying Zebroski after Willmott’s super corner.
The break did nothing to halt Newport’s impressive charge; they easily could’ve scored four inside the opening five minutes of the second period.
First Zebroski dragged wide, before Lee Minshull saw an even better chance deflected over the crossbar. From the resultant corner, not cleared, Kevin Feely struck the inside of the post and from a sweeping move, Willmott’s shot was tipped onto the bar by Lyness after Christian Jolley’s run and cross.
The positivity inside Rodney Parade continued with Aaron O’Connor introduced for the first time at home all season following his career-threatening injury worries.
The visitors did have time for some late scares of their own, but after such an assured performance, it was Newport who looked the likelier winners, with sub Shaun Jeffers involved in two big moments, first failing to beat Lyness with a free header from six yards before being seemingly hauled down by Callum McFadzean, the referee regrettably not able to keep up with the move and in an awful position to assess the situation.
In injury-time the Exiles again came close, Willmott’s corner met firmly with a Sandell header, but Lyness clawed the ball out somehow.
It allowed the visitors to cling on for a point, but the Exiles will feel desperately unlucky not to have turned domination into three points.
Newport (4-3-3): Pidgeley, Jackson, Sandell, Feely, Blake, Flynn (O’Connor 56), Minshull (Jeffers 76), Porter, Willmott, Jolley (Chapman 62), Zebroski
Subs not used: McLoughlin, Hughes, Holloway
Burton Albion (4-4-2): Lyness, McFadzean, Holness, Sharps, Gray, Phillips, Palmer, Bell, Hemmings (MacDonald 60), Symes (Kee 78), Knowles (Harness 72)
Subs not used: Lainton, Edwards, Alexander, Slade
Booked: Gray, MacDonald
Referee: Brendan Malone
Argus star man: Kevin Feely