Newport 1-0 Argyle
Newport County 1
RYAN Lowe must be heartily sick of Newport.
Despite Bury sweeping nearly all before them last season, the Shakers were unable to dent the Welsh side’s late-season ten-game unbeaten league run, losing 3-1 at Rodney Parade in the Spring.
His second successive defeat in the Principality – courtesy of substitute Kyle Howkins’ late header – was less severe but still enough to see the Pilgrims lose not only the game, but also their unbreached start to the season and the leadership of Sky Bet League Two.
The Parade was always going to be a difficult place for Argyle to extend their great start to the new campaign: Newport had not lost there since mid-February and their latest win was their 13th game unbeaten at home.
Argyle had gone into the match without either of the two forwards that had started their previous two league victories.
Joel Grant, a scorer in the 3-0 opening-day win at Crewe was already a known absentee following the hamstring problem that forced his early substitution in the subsequent 1-0 home triumph against Colchester United.
He was joined on the sidelines by Byron Moore, who had come off the bench in the home midweek Carabao Cup over Leyton Orient, leaving Lowe to select the attack from that first-round victory, Dom Telford and Ryan Taylor.
The remainder of the starting line-up was unchanged from the one that had done duty at the Alexandra Stadium and against Colchester, with goalkeeper Alex Palmer, defender Scott Wootton and midfielder Antoni Sarcevic – all unused substitutes against Leyton – restored to the initial 11.
Newport included former forward Pilgrim Jamille Matt, whose partnership with Padraig Amond was one of the main reasons that the Welsh side reached the League Two play-offs last season.
County came at Argyle with the sort of confidence that a team that has not lost on their own turf for half a year ought to possess and Argyle were on the back foot for much of the opening ten minutes.
That changed in an instant when Joe Riley, maybe a little peeved with the goals, and the attention, that his fellow wing-back Callum McFadzean has been acquiring this season, unleashed a 25-yard drive after cutting inside form the right flank.
County goalkeeper Tom King castled the fierce rising shot with a firm palm at full stretch. Even so, the ball only just cleared its target, clattering into the stanchion supporting the goal.
McFadzean’s prowess had obviously preceded him to Rodney Parade, as County initially deployed Robbie Willmott specifically to help out the back four whenever the Argyle wide-boy was on the charge.
Having finally drawn the sting, Argyle began to buzz a little themselves. Taylor twice muscled his way into scoring close-in positions, the second time trying his luck with a little drag-back, back to goal after Niall Canavan had fetched a corner at the far post. Newport were wise to the ruse and blocked the attempt.
The home side held out at a price, though, losing Mickey Demetriou after the centre-back appeared to fall awkwardly in attempting to deal with Gary Sawyer’s free-kick into the penalty area. Howkins was his replacement.
County switched tactics midway through the half, relieving Willmott of McFadzean Watch and playing him in what was now a three up front, looking, possibly, to split the Pilgrims’ three-man central defensive unit.
Opportunities to do that proved scarce, however, as Argyle began to dictate terms and dominate possession, probing away at a resolute yellow defensive line. As a result, they could not get near enough to King’s goal to test him as Riley had done earlier, and, with Palmer reduced to the role of interested spectator, the half ended in deadlock.
Newport tweaked their formation again at the interval, bringing on Tristan Abrahams to partner Matt, with Amond dropping back into the hole behind them, another attempt to unsettle the Pilgrims’ back three.
Twice in the opening stages of the second period, Abrahams benefited from a reinvigorated Newport pressing game to threaten more than he ultimately delivered down the Argyle left. From being in control, Argyle were now a little under the cosh.
The Pilgrims’ riposte was to replace Joe Edwards with Jose Baxter for the fourth time in four matches this season, presumably to give Newport something to think about.
The home side continued to show a zest for the contest, and shortly afterwards, Matt created an opening that was more troublesome than any that Argyle had previously encountered, breaking on the right and sending over the perfect low delivery across the face of the goal. It reached Ryan Haynes, coming in at the far post, but he shot into the side netting.
Shortly afterwards, Mark O’Brien got his head to a cross that was lofted into the box and the merest deflection by Wootton was enough to put off Amond for the striker’s header to be unclean and the ball drifted about a yard wide, with Palmer beaten.
Argyle needed everything they had to hold back the yellow tide, and Canavan, in particular, was up for that challenge.
With 20 minutes to play, Sarcevic, who had run himself to a standstill, was replaced by Conor Grant, whose first contribution was to tee up Baxter for a shot that extended King.
Baxter was equally involved at the other end of the pitch, the one Argyle were defending with the help of the 1,000-plus Green Army behind, and to one side of, the goal, clearing the ball off the line after Abrahams had the final touch, albeit a soft one, in a goalmouth melee.
Palmer saved from O’Brien as the Newport attacks increased in intensity and their corners increased in intensity, but he had no answer to Howkins’ powerful header from Haynes’ cross a few minutes later.
Argyle’s best chance of a leveller fell to Wootton, whose left-foot shot from a right-wing delivery flashed over, the Pilgrims’ hopes of a fourth successive game unbeaten disappearing with it.
Newport County (4-3-1-2): 1 Tom King; 12 Danny McNamara, 25 Mark O’Brien 28 Mickey Demetriou (5 Kyle Howkins 21), 3 Ryan Haynes; 7 Robbie Willmott, 17 Scot Bennett (15 Tristan Abrahams half-time), 10 Josh Sheehan; 4 Joss Labadie (capt ); 9 Padraig Amond, 11 Jamielle Matt. Substitutes (not used): 2 Daniel Leadbitter, 16 George Nurse, 20 Corey Whitely, 22 Taylor Maloney, 30 Nick Townsend (gk).
Booked: Labadie 63.
Argyle (3-5-2): 24 Alex Palmer (gk); 5 Scott Wootton, 6 Niall Canavan, 3 Gary Sawyer (capt); 2 Joe Riley, 7 Antoni Sarcevic (15 Conor Grant 69), 8 Joe Edwards (14 Jose Baxter 53), 10 Danny Mayor, 21 Callum McFadzean; 11 Dom Telford (19 Klaidi Lolos 84), 9 Ryan Taylor. Substitutes (not used): 1 Mike Cooper (gk), 20 Adam Randell, 22 Tafari Moore, 25 Josh Grant.
Referee: Peter Wright.
Attendance: 5,041 (1,039 away).