NEWPORT County made it back-to-back 1-0 friendly wins at Spytty Park last night, but they did it thanks to a vastly improved performance.
The Exiles were criticised for a pedestrian performance against Carl Zeiss Jena at the weekend, but they were impressive against League One Coventry and might have scored more than Ismail Yakubu’s header, midway through the first period.
This was as stern an examination as the Exiles have faced in pre-season this summer, Coventry sending a full-strength side to Spytty Park in what they hope will be a League One promotion-challenging campaign.
The Sky Blues have been able to strengthen their squad this summer with former million pound striker Marcus Tudgay among their summer signings, yet Newport put them to the sword in the first half.
County are settled and growing in confidence in a pre-season that has been far kinder to them than the last one, injury hell and a succession of set-backs thankfully not a repeated process.
And it certainly told in a first period that will have encouraged even the most pessimistic of County followers, the Exiles by far the better side in 45 minutes of football that they’ll feel they should’ve led by more than one goal.
County had a good shape and an even better tempo and they pinned Coventry back, finding particular joy from every set-piece.
With Mark Byrne, Andy Sandell and Robbie Willmott all experts from a dead ball situation and the Exiles currently with personnel about as tall as basketball squad, they continued to panic the League One outfit.
Chris Zebroski set the tone, firing over after just a couple of minutes and Byrne would also test Ryan Allsop from range, but Allsop was a big presence, just like (almost) namesake Julian used to be at Spytty.
However, their pressure told on 21 minutes, Shaun Jeffers’ shot from Byrne’s corner only partially blocked and the ball was returned with interest from the right by Sandell, Lee Minshull heading the ball back across goal to Ismail Yakubu, who nodded home.
The Yak is one of the best goalscoring defenders in the Football League and he came close to doubling the advantage, again from a corner, his fine touch and strike like something out of Matt Le Tissier’s locker, forcing Allsop to tip over the bar.
The visitors did almost snatch parity at the interval when Shaun Miller burst clear, but Pidgeley stayed big to force him wide and Yakubu was quick to recover and block the goalbound shot, textbook defending all-round.
However, Coventry had the better chances in the second period despite replacing their entire starting XI by the hour mark, Ivor Lawton and George Thomas both missing the target after decent opportunities were fashioned for them.
County responded with a stinging effort from Shaun Jeffers that was turned past the post, but the sheer volume of substitutions hurt the fluency of the contest.
Lenny Pidgeley made a smart stop to deny sub John Fleck, Robert’s nephew and the Exiles looked to exploit a tiring Coventry defence, both Zebroski and Shaun Jeffers missing chances as the clocked ticked down.
They might have scored twice near the death, Minshull heading just wide from sub Robbie Willmott’s perfect centre and Willmott also finding time to rattle the woodwork in the final two minutes via a wicked deflected.
County: Pidgeley, Jackson, Feely, Yakubu, Sandell, Minshull, Byrne, Klukowski, Jeffers, Zebroski, Jolley
Subs: Simon Thomas (gk), Chapman, Howe, O’Connor, Willmott, Hughes, Flynn, Patten, Anthony, Parker
Coventry City: Allsop, Willis, Pugh, Webster, Johnson, Thomas, Tudgay, Swanson, Miller, Clarke, Daniels
Subs: Burge, Fleck, Barton, O’Brien, Seanborne, Haynes, Phillips, Finch, Lawton, Thomas, Maddison