Tamworth 1 Newport County 2
NEWPORT County AFC have already won nine of their 13 matches in the Blue Square Bet Premier this season but few victories can have been more pleasing than this one.
Manager Justin Edinburgh described it as a complete away performance and it’s hard to disagree.
County had suffered late collapses on their last two visits to Tamworth’s Lamb Ground but they held on to their lead through seven agonising minutes of stoppage time on Saturday.
It should never have been as tense because the Exiles dominated for long stretches of the match but came up against an inspired goalkeeper in Tony Breeden.
But for his heroic display between the sticks and some incredible goal-line clearances from his defenders, Edinburgh’s men would have been out of sight by half-time.
As it was a fourth goal of the season from Ismail Yakubu and a 10th from top scorer Aaron O’Connor either side of Adam Cunnington’s equaliser were enough to seal a fifth away win of the season.
It means that if County can win at Macclesfield Town this coming Saturday they will already have gained more points on the road than they did in the whole of last season.
But, more importantly, the three points took the Exiles back to the top of the table as a result of Forest Green Rovers’ 2-1 defeat at Wrexham.
With struggling Ebbsfleet United the visitors to Rodney Parade tomorrow night there is every prospect of remaining top throughout this week.
And with a quarter of the season gone it’s looking increasingly likely that County can sustain their unexpected promotion push throughout the campaign.
In a hugely entertaining match between two good teams the visitors showed their quality in attack, their resilience in defence and the kind of fighting spirit that carries teams a long way.
Making his first start, in place of Jefferson Louis, Ben Swallow was simply superb.
He tormented the Tamworth defence in the first half and was very unlucky not to find the net.
And Danny Crow could have had a hat-trick but, not for the first time this season, luck was against him too.
The striker saw one shot brilliantly volleyed off the line by John Dempster after 10 minutes and the same defender kept out Swallow’s goal-bound effort shortly afterwards.
Breeden then pulled off a stunning point-blank save from Crow’s overhead kick but it wasn’t all one-way traffic.
Andy Sandell cleared off the line after Cunnington’s drive had beaten Lenny Pidgeley in first-half stoppage time.
And the drama didn’t end there as Peter Till fluffed a good chance to give the hosts a fortuitous lead with a poor attempt at lobbing Pidgeley.
At the other end both Sandell and Lee Minshull had blasted efforts tipped over the bar and in the fourth minute of three added on Yakubu headed in from Jake Thomson’s corner.
One concern for Edinburgh is the way his team keep conceding after the break and they did it again on Saturday as Cunnington headed home on 61 minutes after O’Connor had uncharacteristically missed a sitter at the other end.
The Exiles defence also have a tendency to lose concentration after a delay and the goal came just after captain David Pipe had received treatment for a head wound.
They switched off briefly but they switched back on again in double quick time as O’Connor made amends to tap home just two minutes after the equaliser to put County ahead once again.
The former Luton man, who has quickly become a talisman for Edinburgh’s new look side, worried the 400 travelling fans as he was stretchered off shortly afterwards.
It turned out to be cramp and he should be fit to face Ebbsfleet but, sooner or later, he will pick up an injury and County will have to prove they can score without their main man.
Yakubu had another header saved from close range and Crow should have made the points safe but was denied by the brilliant Breeden.
On another day those misses could have been costly as Lee Hendrie almost snatched a point for Tamworth with a stunning free-kick.
The former Aston Villa star curled the ball past Pidgeley and onto the angle of post and bar only for it to strike the goalkeeper’s back and be hacked away.
But Fleetwood and Crawley will testify that even the best sides need a fortuitous bounce of the ball now and again.