PADRAIG Amond and Jamille Matt deservedly hogged the headlines over the weekend as they both found the net to make it 40 goals between them this season, but there was another landmark for Newport County AFC at Cambridge United on Saturday.

The 3-0 win at the Abbey Stadium, with substitute Harry McKirdy also on target, saw the Exiles secure their 20th clean sheet of the campaign.

Goalkeeper Joe Day has won plenty of plaudits and a place in the League Two team of the season for his eye-catching performances between the sticks.

But, ever since that bizarre 6-0 home thumping at the hands of Yeovil Town in September, County’s defence has been seen by many as their Achilles heel.

And a goal difference of -5 could easily prove to be the difference between a play-offs spot and a near-miss for Michael Flynn’s men over the coming weeks.

A total of 57 goals conceded in 41 games is too many and, of the teams still in with a shout of promotion, only Carlisle United have shipped more.

In terms of goals-against in League Two, County currently rank 15th out of 24.

That compares to joint-13th for goals scored, with one game in hand over everybody but Oldham Athletic.

In all competitions it is 69 goals conceded in 54 games so far – an average of 1.27 goals per game – and 73 goals scored – an average of 1.35 goals per game.

The stats do show, however, that there has been a marked improvement in the defence in recent months. And the return of Regan Poole on loan from Manchester United in January seems to have been the catalyst for that.

Since Poole made his second Exiles debut against Exeter City on January 19, in a 1-0 win that could yet prove crucial, the team has been much harder to break down.

In the 36 games prior to Poole’s arrival, they’d kept 11 clean sheets but conceded 52 goals at an average of 1.44 per game.

In the 18 games that the Wales under-21 star has played, County have chalked up nine clean sheets and conceded 17 goals at 0.94 per game.

And four of those were against Premier League champions Manchester City in the FA Cup fifth round.

If we leave aside that unforgettable night against arguably the best side in the world, it is 13 conceded in 17 games with Poole in the back line – 0.76 goals per game.

Poole can’t take all the credit, of course. Day has been involved in 17 clean sheets throughout the season, Mickey Demetriou 18 and Dan Butler all 20.

South Wales Argus:

The return to fitness of Mark O’Brien (14 clean sheets) has also been a factor and the contribution of Scot Bennett (13) in defence and midfield should not be underestimated.

And let’s not forget Fraser Franks (10 clean sheets), David Pipe (nine), Tyler Forbes (four) and Nick Townsend (three).

It’s been a team effort and Flynn will tell you that includes the forward line defending from the front as well.

“It’s always nice to keep a clean sheet,” said Demetriou at the weekend.

“It’s one more to the collection this year and hopefully there’s a few more coming up.

“In the last five games, it’s three wins, one goal conceded, and we’ve just got to go again for the next five games.

“If we can replicate that then who knows what could happen?

“It’s a good opportunity for us and we’re just working hard for the gaffer and ourselves.”

Demetriou also knows he and his defensive colleagues are lucky to have a goalkeeper of Day’s quality behind them.

“We were a back five today but that’s a back six really with Joe,” he told iFollow Exiles after the win at Cambridge.

“We know if anything gets past us then we’ve got him behind us and most of the time he’s going to pull us out of the hat.

“Hopefully we get a few more clean sheets before the end of the season.

“We’ve got five massive games left, and we’ll see what happens then.”

If they keep shutting teams out, County will go close to making the play-offs.

And if Amond and Matt can continue to fire over the next few weeks and the likes of McKirdy, Ade Azeez, Robbie Willmott, Matty Dolan, Josh Sheehan and Joss Labadie can chip in with a goal or two then the top-seven might still be achievable.

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