County off to a flyer by stunning Mansfield
MANSFIELD 3 COUNTY 4
PEOPLE have been saying that the new football season can’t match the Olympics for drama and excitement, but Newport County are already trying to prove that isn’t the case.
In one of the most exciting opening contests of a season you could ever wish to witness, the Exiles triumphed by the odd goal in seven as they made good on Justin Edinburgh’s promise to be much improved from last term.
Nothing is won or lost on the first day of the campaign, but nevertheless the Exiles’ superb victory will mean the world in many ways.
Firstly, the galvanising effect of being a winner can’t be underestimated and the unexpected triumph could add hundreds to the gate for tomorrow’s Rodney Parade showdown with Nuneaton as momentum is king.
Secondly, and even more importantly, the Exiles buried several bad memories from a miserable 18 months in the league. The Exiles have already blown a three-goal lead at Mansfield, they’ve lost at Kidderminster after being 2-0 up with less than five minutes remaining and frankly, the list goes on and on.
The Exiles showed mental fortitude and great fight at Field Mill and also showed plenty more to warm the hearts of their 300-400 travelling fans.
Better passing? Check. Precision and poise in front of goal? Check. They scored from every effort they had that was on target! An ability to show fight and character when things are going wrong? County almost won this game twice, the second goal flurry as surprising as it was hard fought.
And all this without one of their key men, midfielder Mike Flynn laid low by illness and unable to make his second debut for the Exiles.
Most impartial observers would’ve expected County to start on the back foot and they did, Lindon Meikle and Jamie Tolley both failing to test Lenny Pidgeley despite good openings.
And boy, did County make them pay, racing into a two-goal lead with their only two forays into Mansfield’s half in the opening 20 minutes.
The first goal was well worked, Andy Sandell’s superb free kick powerfully headed home by Ismail Yakubu.
That was good, but it got even better, a failure to clear a second corner really costing the Stags when Max Porter found Tony James, who absolutely thundered the ball home on the volley from the edge of the box. A better goal from a centre back you may never see!
It shook the hosts but they offered little of substance as the first half drew to a close, Matt Green the most likely man to change things as the half petered out, especially in light of a serious injury to Ross Dyer.
His replacement, Jake Speight, thought he should’ve had a penalty just before the break, but he was booked instead for simulation after David Pipe’s challenge, also missing appallingly when Green sent him through, firing straight at Pidgeley.
However, Speight did benefit when Pidgeley made a superb save, the striker looking a yard or two offside as he tapped home the rebound, much to County’s protests.
That was only four minutes past the break and 60 seconds later it was level, Sandell and James allowing Green to wriggle between them as a high ball came in, Pidgeley compounding the problem by rushing off his line, which allowed Green to brilliantly chip him.
It was all the incentive the Stags needed and they battered away looking for a third, but Pidgeley blocked from Tolley and denied Speight with his feet as County grimly held on. At the time, even a point seemed beyond their grasp in truth.
The Exiles needed a respite and it came around the hour as Jake Thomson floated in another sublime free kick (cleverly won by Danny Crow) that Aaron O’Connor nodded home from close range.
It got better still as the hosts pushed forward, O’Connor’s centre touched on by Max Porter to Jefferson Louis who had two bites at it before rifling home low and hard into the corner.
County’s ecstatic supporters could barely believe what they were witnessing and the Exiles looked comfortable until the final moments when Green’s super work gave Speight a one-yard tap in.
Last season that would’ve probably been a precursor to a 4-4 or even 5-4 game, but this County team are made of sterner stuff. Their season is off to a fine start.
Mansfield: Marriott, Jones, Pilkington, Owens, Beevers, Tolley (Wright 67), Howell, Roberts, Meikle, Dyer (Speight 30), Green.
Subs not used: Thompson, Clements, Daniel.
Booked: Beevers, Speight.
County: Pidgeley, Pipe, Sandell, Yakubu, James, Evans (Hughes 85), Thomson, Porter, O’Connor (Charles 69), Crow (Minshull 68), Louis.
Subs not used: Perry, Harris.
Referee: Chris Kavanagh (Ashton-under-Lyne).
Attendance: 2,924 (357 away).