NEWPORT County suffered a second two goal defeat in three days at Reading last night, but their performance couldn’t have been more different to the horror show against Wycombe.
Goals either side of half time from Pavel Pogrebnyak and Nick Blackman and a last-gasp goal from Craig Tanner won the day for the Royals, who will be the first to confess they were given an extremely tough examination from County who were miles improved from the lifeless display at the weekend.
Pre-match team news carries more significant weight in the cup competitions and Edinburgh would’ve surely been aghast when he saw the Reading team selected by Nigel Adkins, featuring nine of the starting XI from Saturday’s Championship draw at Wigan Athletic.
That meant starts for a strikeforce worth a combined £10 million in transfer fees and for Wales international and Newport boy Chris Gunter, who skippered the Royals against his local team - his parents still live in the city.
Newport’s line-up was altered more than the hosts, but Edinburgh only made four changes to Saturday’s side with two of those dropping out, Andy Sandell and Chris Zebroski, both moves forced on the boss.
He also dropped Lee Minshull and Mike Flynn in a bid to get a reaction from Saturday and it certainly worked, at least initially.
Newport were by far the better side in the opening quarter of the game, missing four presentable chances to go ahead against the former Premier League outfit.
They had their first opportunity after less than 60 seconds, but Mark Byrne could only shoot straight at England U21 goalkeeper Alex McCarthy as the Royals were stunned by County’s incisive attacking.
The Exiles didn’t rest on their laurels and Aaron O’Connor used his pace to stretch the defence, pulling out wide and at times creating a one-on-one dual with Gunter.
County were exploiting the flanks fully and continued to press, Yan Klukowski dragging a shot wide and then seeing a firmer effort tipped round the post by McCarthy.
It was impressive and cavalier work from a team so poor at the weekend and from the resultant corner, O’Connor forced McCarthy to make a top class save.
It was as impressive a start as could or should be expected from a League Two side, but there will be a sense of frustration at the fact Reading scored with their first genuine opportunity, County’s high defensive line caught out when Robbie Willmott dropped off a fraction.
That spelt disaster, because a Championship club will punish the little mistakes and Pogrebnyak did exactly that, lobbing Lenny Pidgeley brilliantly.
It was a blow for Newport and certainly against the run of play, but on the stroke of half time they enjoyed a huge slice of luck with Pogrebnyak again beat the offside trap and went clean through, only to be hauled down by Kevin Feely.
The rules are clear on such an incident and not a single County fan expected Feely to remain on the field, but the referee amazingly only showed him a yellow card.
That must’ve given Newport a big fillip at the interval and they began the second period just as they did the first, on the front foot as they forged the early chances, Adam Chapman’s cross just a bit behind O’Connor who could only turn it wide with McCarthy beaten.
The contest became more and more stretched which is a compliment to County, Edinburgh’s side only looking like conceding a second when Nick Blackman hit a howitzer, but Pidgeley stretched to deny him brilliantly.
Newport were boosted by the miss and continued to apply pressure, substitutes Christian Jolley and Shaun Jeffers both making an impression with their pace, but the Championship outfit looked an impressive defensive unit.
Willmott’s crossing ability in particular forced Reading to retreat further and further and the magnificent County fans, who never stopped singing throughout the match, must have sensed a Brighton repeat could be on the cards.
However, any hope was finally extinguished with Blackman lashed home left-footed from an acute angle as the Royals caught Newport over stretched in attack.
It was harsh on County who deserved a goal for their efforts and in the dying moments they found the consolation strike when Shaun Jeffers firmly headed home Willmott’s corner.
But any dreams of a comeback were killed off within seconds, Craig Tanner scoring on his debut as Newport suffered a cruel defeat that will give them and their travelling fans, great, great heart for the coming weeks.
Reading: McCarthy, Gunter, Pearce, Morrison, Pogrebnyak, Cox (Edwards 81), Obita, Hector, Blackman (Tanner 89), Cummings, Taylor (Akpan 68)
Subs not used: Tshibola, Tanner, Kuhl, Andersen, Cooper
Booked: Cox, Blackman
County: Pidgeley, Feely, Yakubu, Jones, Willmott, Jackson, Byrne, Chapman, Klukowski (Minshull 71), O’Connor (Jolley 71), Howe (Jeffers 80)
Subs not used: Thomas, Jeffers, Hughes, Flynn, Parker
Booked: Feely, Jackson
Referee: Mr J Linnington
Attendance: 6459 (away 805)
Argus star man: Ryan Jackson