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 Saturday, March 25, 2017

THE Newport County AFC love affair with Fratton Park finally came to an end as Portsmouth survived a late fightback to finally beat the Exiles at home.

County were aiming for a fifth straight win at Pompey’s famous old ground but goals either side of the break from Kyle Bennett and Kal Naismith put the hosts in charge.

Alex Samuel gave Michael Flynn’s men hope with a header 15 minutes from time and there were chances for the visitors to grab an unlikely point but it wasn’t to be.

Defeat for Cheltenham Town means County remain six points from safety but there are now just seven games left to play at the bottom of League Two.

With Mark O’Brien suspended and Sid Nelson dropping to the bench there were recalls for Mickey Demetriou and Tom Owen-Evans.

And Scot Bennett returned to the back three alongside Demetriou and Darren Jones but after a strong opening from the hosts Flynn switched to 4-4-2.

That meant Bennett was back in central midfield alongside Joss Labadie, with Sean Rigg on the left and Owen-Evans down the right and Ryan Bird and Samuel up front.

The main dangerman for Pompey early on was Naismith.

In the first minute he whipped in a dangerous ball from the left that just evaded Eoin Doyle and Mickey Demetriou slid in to clear the danger.

Naismith then fired a shot just over the top from 25 yards before another wicked cross was again just out of reach for Doyle in the middle.

County took a while to get going but they felt they should have had a penalty after half an hour when Rigg crossed from the left and Samuel went down under a heavy challenge in the box.

But referee Tim Robinson waved play on and Labadie blasted the rebound over the bar from distance.

Most of the action was at the other end, however, and Demetriou had to be alert to block an effort from Bennett that looked to be heading for the top corner.

Joe Day was then forced to rush out from his goal to punch the ball away from on-rushing substitute Conor Chaplin, who had replaced the injured Doyle.

Flynn would have been relatively happy as half-time approached and the Pompey fans began to show signs of frustration.

But all his side’s good defensive work was undone three minutes before the break with one mistake, one brilliant ball and one perfect finish.

Bird picked up the ball in the centre circle but his lay off went straight to Carl Baker.

The Portsmouth midfielder split the County defence in an instant and picked out the run of Bennett, who slotted the ball through Day’s legs to break the Exiles’ resistance.

South Wales Argus:

That was Bird’s last significant contribution as he was taken off at the break, along with Owen-Evans.

Marlon Jackson and Jennison Myrie-Williams came on but they couldn’t alter the pattern of the match as the hosts continued to dominate.

Paul Cook’s men produced some superb build-up play in the final third and it was no surprise when they doubled their lead just before the hour mark.

Chaplin found space down the left flank and crossed for the unmarked Naismith to head powerfully past Day from six yards out.

Flynn’s side did show some signs of fight in the closing stages as Jackson skewed a shot wide from the edge of the box and Labadie saw an effort blocked inside the area.

The revitalised Jackson then forced a spectacular save from David Forde as the Pompey goalkeeper clawed his shot away from the top corner.

And they halved the deficit with 15 minutes remaining as substitute Mark Randall found Rigg on the right and Samuel just got his head to the cross to put it beyond Forde.

Jackson had a glorious chance to level almost straightaway but hesitated for a moment too long and allowed Forde to snuff out the danger.

There was one more chance but Samuel was dispossessed by Gareth Evans just as he was about to pull the trigger from close range.

It was an unexpectedly nervy end to the match for Pompey but they did enough to claim a long-overdue victory over the Exiles.

County: Day; Jones (Randall, 71), Bennett, Demetriou; Pipe, Labadie, Owen-Evans (Myrie-Williams, 46) Butler; Samuel, Bird (Jackson, 46) Rigg

Subs not used: Bittner, Barnum-Bobb, Nelson, Gordon

Booked: Labadie, Myrie-Williams, Rigg

Referee: Tim Robinson

Attendance: 17,364 (322 County)

Argus star man: Samuel