With Newport County AFC out of action after EFL fixtures were suspended until at least April 30 due to the coronavirus pandemic, we’re dipping into the Argus archives to relive the club’s miraculous Great Escape from relegation three years on. Follow the action day-by-day as Michael Flynn’s men battle to beat the drop against all the odds…

First published on Tuesday, March 21, 2017

A STUNNING Sean Rigg free-kick earned 10-man Newport County AFC a point against Luton Town but they couldn’t find the winner they needed in their game in hand.

Michael Flynn’s men moved to within six points of safety at the bottom of League Two but they required a win to really put the pressure on relegation rivals Cheltenham Town.

Rigg’s rasper cancelled out Danny Hylton’s early penalty for the visitors.

But County couldn’t build on that leveller and were hampered at the death after Mark O’Brien was sent off for a second yellow card.

Fellow centre-back Darren Jones returned from injury in place of youngster Tom Owen-Evans in a move that saw Scot Bennett shifted into central midfield to partner captain Joss Labadie.

County were looking to gain revenge over Luton following an ill-tempered and controversial 2-1 defeat at Kenilworth Road back in August.

On that occasion referee Charles Breakspear awarded the hosts a dubious 97th minute penalty after a tumble from Pelly Ruddock Mpanzu.

Breakspear, who also sent off Luton’s Johnny Mullins in that match, was in charge again at Rodney Parade.

And he started where he’d left off seven months ago – by awarding Luton a penalty.

There was not much doubt about this one, however, as the County defence was caught out by a quick throw and Sid Nelson brought down Hylton.

It was the 17th penalty that the Exiles have conceded this season and the Luton striker made it look easy from the spot to give his side the lead in the fifth minute.

It took Flynn’s men a while to recover from shooting themselves in the foot once again and they rather limped through the next quarter of an hour.

But the always impressive Alex Samuel went close on 20 minutes as he hooked a shot just wide after good work from Dan Butler and Rigg down the left flank forced a scramble in the Hatters’ box.

It was still something of a surprise when Rigg levelled with a spectacular free-kick, however.

Nelson was fouled around 30 yards out in a central position and it appeared to be too far out for a shot.

But Rigg took a leaf out of Gareth Bale’s book with a stunning knuckleball strike that rocketed into the top left-hand corner of the net and left Matt Macey, on loan from Arsenal, stranded.

Rigg had two further chances from free-kicks on the edge of the area before the break but could only find the wall with both.

At the other end Joe Day had to be at his best to keep out a stinging Ollie Palmer drive from a tight angle.

And there was very nearly a second penalty for the visitors in first-half stoppage time when Hylton appeared to be barged over but this time Breakspear was not interested.

South Wales Argus:

The dangerous Hylton was forced off and replaced by James Justin for the second half.

And, moments after Bennett had sent a volley just inches over the bar, Flynn also made a change as Owen-Evans replaced Nelson.

Palmer wasted a good chance just before the hour as he headed well off target from Justin’s cross as County continued to push for the win they needed, while also living dangerously at the back.

Isaac Vassell saw a shot blocked and O’Brien was forced into taking a booking as he illegally stopped a Luton breakaway.

Owen-Evans had a glorious chance to win it 20 minutes from the end as the ball broke to him through the middle and the Hatters defence seemed to part invitingly.

But Macey showed his Premier League pedigree as he tipped the youngster’s shot round the post.

Labadie got back well to rob Palmer as he lined up a shot inside the County penalty area and Macey punched away another Rigg free-kick as both sides went for it.

Labadie was booked for diving in the Luton box before O’Brien picked up a second yellow but still County poured forward.

Samuel and substitute Marlon Jackson both went agonisingly close to sealing all three points and Palmer saw a header somehow cleared off the line deep into injury time.

But ultimately there was nothing to separate the sides at opposite ends of the table and County now have just eight games left to save themselves.

County: Day; Nelson (Owen-Evans, 56), Jones, O’Brien; Pipe, Bennett, Labadie, Butler; Samuel, Bird (Jackson, 85), Rigg

Subs not used: Bittner, Barnum-Bobb, Demetriou, Gordon, Williams

Booked: Rigg, O’Brien, Pipe, Labadie, Owen-Evans

Sent off: O’Brien

Referee: Charles Breakspear

Attendance: 2,304 (311 Luton)

Argus star man: Rigg