Town: Jayson Leutwiler, Mickey Demetriou, Liam Lawrence (c), Cameron Gayle (Jermaine Grandison, 88), Connor Goldson, Nathaniel Knight-Percival, James Collins, Ryan Woods, Mark Ellis, Bobby Grant (Keith Southern, 87), Mikael Mandron (Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro, 75)
Subs not used: Mark Halstead, Jordan Clark, Connor Randall, Scott Vernon
Newport County: Joe Day, Ryan Jackson, Kevin Feely, Max Porter, Darren Jones, Ismail Yakubu, Adam Chapman (Yan Klukowski, 83), Aaron O’Connor, Chris Zebroski (Miles Storey, 79), Andy Sendell (c), Mark Byrne (Lee Minshull, 87)
Subs not used: Jamie Stephens, Shaun Jeffers, Mike Flynn, Regan Poole
Referee: J. Linington
Assistants: A. Hendley & C. Husband
Fourth Official: M. Derrien
Attendance: 3,706 (664 from Town)
Martin Wild reports from Rodney Parade
A 95thminute dismissal for substitute Keith Southern did little to take the shine off a killer away performance from Shrewsbury Town in the County of Gwent. Fellow sub Jean-Louis Akpa Akpro was the hero of the day when he scored the deciding goal with almost his first touch late in the second half. The win took Salop to the top of the League Two table after leaders Wycombe could only manage a draw in their home game with Pompey.
The only change for Shrewsbury came in the shape of loan capture from Sunderland, Mikael Mandron. He was handed a starting jersey with Andy Mangan laid off for what is expected to be around 4-6 weeks.
Newport got us under way on a bone hard pitch and although the sun shone brightly, the temperatures were hovering somewhere around the Fahrenheit equivalent of sub-Arctic.
In the early stages, Town wasted a couple of set pieces before Jayson Leutwiler was called upon to scramble away Kevin Feely’s bobbler, and then easily dealt with Max Porter’s header from the corner.
There was a noisy bunch below us in the antiquated stand which County share with two of the town’s rugby clubs. Although the pitch was a difficult one, at least the doctored green stripe around the 22 metre mark was a great barometer in which to measure offsides.
In the first quarter hour there were three corners to each side with the better deliveries coming from the South Walians. There were also plenty of bone-crunching tackles flying around that could go into the file marked ‘hum-dingers.’
On 19 minutes came the game’s best chance. Aaron O’Connor lifted the ball over NKP and had around 30 yards of space to travel with the ball. When the striker did manage to get his shot off, Leutwiler had got his angles spot on and saved with his legs to avert the danger. Newport have a proud record here and despite two recent hidings on their travels, they are an entirely different proposition on home turf. They had demonstrated what an industrious bunch they are with a goalless draw at Fortress Greenhous earlier in the season, and today they looked like they were more than ready to go toe-to-toe with Micky Mellon’s title chasers.
With half an hour on the watch, this wasn’t the kind of game you would care to watch again on DVD. It was rich in endeavour but poor in quality with the ball spending far too much time in the air – hardly surprising on a rotten surface. Mellon has complained once or twice about the pitch back in SY2, but compared to this one it was like a Ryder Cup putting green!
O’Connor did head into the net after 33 minutes but the home fans’ cheers soon died down with a linesman’s flag on the far side signalling offside. One time Torquay striker Chris Zebroski fired wide from a tight angle a minute or so later and the hosts were enjoying their best spell of the match.
In a rare Town attack, Ryan Woods forced Joe Day into his first save of the afternoon with a decent strike from 25 yards, but once again the corner kick was easily defended by the Exiles, with Day comfortably claiming the ball at its optimum height.
Half Time: Newport County 0 Town 0
The opening 15 minutes of the second half were much like the 45 that had preceded them... lots and lots of contact with the ball but seldom by foot. Ankles, knees and shins seemed to be the order of the day with players eyes directed each time at a seemingly ever worsening playing surface. That said, it was Salop who held the bulk of the possession, trying to work the ball into key areas and demonstrating a degree of patience given how many passes were going astray courtesy of a lousy bounce or bobble.
Just past the hour – and with the home fans amongst the 3,706 crowd finding their voices – Leutwiler did brilliantly to come through plenty of bodies to fist clear an Andy Sandell corner.
There was precious little else happening anywhere on the park with the exception of the odd hotly contested award of a throw-in, with County fans raucously appealing for every decision to go their way, and howling their disapproval when they didn’t.
Town had muted appeals for a pen turned away when Mandron saw his shot on the turn blocked following the away side’s best move of the match, and with 15 minutes left came the first change for either side. Mandron was withdrawn with Akpa Akpro introduced to what had been a highly physical encounter from the outset.
And what an inspired change it was. Just two minutes after coming on the Frenchman struck. He muscled his way past an Amber shirt down the left hand side and with Day covering his near post, Akpa Akpro squeezed the ball beyond him and just inside the far post. It was a great time to score and had been a long time coming but credit to the frontman who always works tirelessly for the team.
With seven minutes to go Cam Gayle put the ball between the posts with a conversion that Johnny Wilkinson would have been proud of. Sadly, it didn’t land an additional two points.
Mellon ran down some precious time, with the unfortunate Southern and Jermaine Grandison replacing Messrs. Grant and Gayle in the closing stages of normal time.
Five minutes of added on time were indicated in what was arguably the biggest five minutes of the season so far. There was a late flashpoint which Connor Goldson took the most exception to and he picked up a yellow along with Lee Minshull. Seconds later with tempers at boiling point Southern picked up a straight red for a reckless tackle on Porter right under the ref’s nose to leave the visitors a man short – for all of 10 seconds. Shrews became only the second side to win here this season – and the first since the opening day back in August. Sometimes you just have to grind out a result and today Town did just that.
Full Time: Newport County 0 Town 1