Newport County AFC 0
by Rick Cowdery
EDGY Argyle edged a little nearer the points total that manager John Sheridan believes will see them extend their season beyond May 2 with a second goal-less draw from their last three matches.
On an afternoon when none of the Pilgrims’ rivals for a final Sky Bet League 2 place between positions 3-9 – Newport included – made any significant headway, it was perhaps a case of no harm done, but no real ground gained.
The Argyle manager had plenty of excuses, if he had needed them, to make changes to the Pilgrims’ starting line-up following the previous Tuesday’s disappointing 2-0 defeat at lowly Dagenham & Redbridge.
However, he decided to remain true to the 11 that had begun at the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham Stadium (and thank goodness that is the last time this season I will have to type that), which meant a second-time-around home ‘debut’ for midfielder Olly Lee in the wake of Drew Talbot’s sudden departure at the beginning of the week.
Alternatively, Newport made two changes to the side which had knocked back their – and Argyle’s – fading play-off rivals Luton 1-0 at Rodney Parade four days earlier: in came Mark Byrne and Miles Storey, in place of the benched Shaun Jeffers and Kevin Feely.
After seeing off three early Newport corners, the Green Machine slipped into gear and some neat passing moves created a flurry of promising half-chances. Thereafter, though, it spluttered somewhat and the game settled down to an anxious, and occasionally feisty, midfield thrust and parry.
Lee Minshull, the Exiles’ number eight whose physique would easily qualify for his club’s nation’s national sport at the same number, was at the centre of a couple of coming-togethers, firstly with Peter Hartley and then with Curtis Nelson, who could clearly be seen enquiring as to how allowing his opponent to jump into him was considered a foul.
The Pilgrims’ defence – the mainstay of their play-off pursuance – needed to remain alert to give their team-mates the chance to build on the Pilgrims’ incredible 204-15 record: in the 20 previous games in which they had opened the scoring this season, they had won 18 and lost just one, after Aaron Bentley was sent off at home to Oxford.
Carl McHugh, who has been in prime form of late, was unruffled in thumping away a superbly delivered free-kick by Ryan Jackson that was arrowed into the heart of the six-yard box.
Then goalkeeper Luke McCormick’s excellent position helped make light work of a low 20-yard shot by Byrne, who had created the opportunity for himself by robbing the normally solid but slightly off-colour Anthony O’Connor. Maybe Byrne had kryptonite in his sock-top.
The visitors had a decent, if slightly lucky, opportunity to take the lead in the final minutes of the first half when Max Porter’s cross from the left took a deflection over the heads of the Pilgrims’ defenders and fell at the feet of Aaron O’Connor. Fortunately, the out-of-sorts malaise affecting his namesake (the Curse of the O’Connors?) appeared to have spread – or maybe he was surprised about the fortuitous opportunity – and nothing worse than an airshot followed.
Newport replaced Minshull with Adam Chapman at the interval and were soon on the attack again with O’Connor back on point to deny the ubiquitous Byrne with a brave, and painful, penalty area block.
Argyle responded immediately with their best effort of the game. Things looked unpromising when Bobby Reid lost possession deep in Newport territory wide on the left, but Tareiq Holmes-Dennis nicked the ball back off Jackson and unleashed a powerful shot with his – wrong – right peg.
The ball was destined to rip into the net after ducking under the crossbar before Newport goalkeeper Joe Day sprang to tip it over and deny the teenage Londoner what would have been a truly memorable first senior goal.
The near breakthrough appeared to pep up the Pilgrims. Reuben Reid bustled his way through and seemed set to fire his 18th goal of the campaign before referee Charles Breakspear halted his advance for a foul that was vigorously questioned by the men in Green.
Then Bobby Reid conjured up a lovely piece of skill on the right edge of the penalty area, selling his marker with control on his right foot before a first-time shot with his left that zipped past Day’s near post.
The Exiles sent on Chris Zebroski from the bench with half an hour to play. His previous, during his previous spell at Home Park, ensured his arrival was greeted with as much derision as an ex-Pilgrim has ever received.
As the minutes ticked away, the game naturally opened up a little and ebbed and flowed. Reuben Reid went close with a deflected shot after one of those runs from Kelvin Mellor; Nelson headed away a dangerous cross from Zebroski after Newport hit the Pilgrims on the break.
Day then denied Bobby Reid, scrambling to deflect the ball just wide after Mellor had played the Bristol City loanee in; Chapman saw a stinger deflect off a desperate defensive boot.
Jason Banton and Dominic Blizzard came on for the last ten minutes as Argyle chased the win they craved. Holmes-Dennis put in across that was asking for better than it got before Zebroski let them off with a selfish shot on the break rather than pass to a better-place team-mate.
As the game entered overtime, Mellor and Bobby Reid combined sweetly for the later to cut the ball back from the right bye-line but the a Newport foot got a touch on the ball just enough to make Blizzard’s shot agonisingly imprecise.
Argyle (3-5-2): 23 Luke McCormick; 5 Curtis Nelson (capt), 16 Carl McHugh, 29 Peter Hartley; 2 Kelvin Mellor, 17 Bobby Reid, 19 Anthony O'Connor (11 Dominic Blizzard 82), 21 Olly Lee (8 Jason Banton 82), 13 Tareiq Holmes-Dennis; 7 Lewis Alessandra, 9 Reuben Reid. Substitutes (not used): 1 James Bittner (gk), 3 Ben Purrington, 6 Ollie Norburn, 14 Tyler Harvey, 28 Ryan Brunt.
Booking: Holmes-Dennis 28.
Newport County (3-5-2): 30 Joe Day; 6 Ismail Yakubu, 5 Darren Jones (capt), 13 Andy Sandell; 2 Ryan Jackson, 8 Lee Minshull (7 Adam Chapman half-time), 33 Mark Byrne, 4 Max Porter, 18 Yan Klukowski; 10 Aaron O'Connor (14 Shaun Jeffers 73), 20 Miles Storey (11 Chris Zebroski 62). Substitutes (not used): 24 Joe Parker, 25 Jamie Stephens (gk), 27 David Tutonda, 31 Kieran Parselle.
Bookings: Sandell 23, Yakubu 61.
Referee: Charles Breakspear.
Attendance: 6,847 (521 away).