Newport County AFC are SAFE after a 2-1 win over Notts County.
They say lightning doesn’t strike twice but County didn’t get that memo as in scenes like those from 40 years ago, County again secured safety on the final day. This time, Mark O’Brien was the County hero as his 89th minute winner saw the Exiles secure their place in League 2 for next season.
That came after Jorge Grant had cancelled out Mickey Demetriou’s opener. And just as it looked like County may slip out of League football, O’Brien popped up with a priceless winner.
The ‘Great Escape’ had been accomplished.
Mike Flynn elected to make two changes to the side that lost to Carlisle last week – one tactical and one enforced. Lenell John Lewis, making his first start of the season replaced injured Swansea loanee Alex Samuel. Scot Bennett also came into the starting team in place of Sean Rigg.
Kevin Nolan chose to make one change to his side that beat play-off chasing Blackpool last week. Mark Yeates was replaced by Alex Howes, who came in to make his full debut for the Magpies. Richard Duffy captained the side in place of injured Michael O’Connor.
Ahead of the game, County knew victory would secure their safety in League 2 and prolong their 4-year spell in the division. So it would come as no surprise to a sell-out Rodney Parade that County created the first chance. Unfortunately, Mark Randall’s delivery went straight into the palms of Adam Collin.
Jon Stead shot wide shortly after as the visitors retaliated but his effort sailed wide of the post.
County came inches away from a prized opener not long after in the 8th minute.
Lenell John-Lewis, aiming to prove something after so missing much of this season, unselfishly squared to Tom Owen-Evans but Richard Duffy reacted well to clear before Owen-Evans could connect.
The writing was on the wall for the visitors and Duffy again had to be smart to prevent John-Lewis the simplest of tasks of heading home inside the six-yard area.
It had been a composed start by the stand-in captain who asserted his authority onto the game in the opening 10 minutes.
But for all County’s dominance, the visitors created the best chance of the opening quarter. After Shola Ameobi had outmuscled Mickey Demetriou, the veteran squared to Jorge Grant on the edge of the area but his effort sailed wide.
After Joss Labadie stormed through the midfield, an opportunity almost arose for John-Lewis. However, his touch let him down and the keeper collected easily.
Owen-Evans was the next County player to create an opening but his effort on the edge of the area drifted high and wide of the goal in the 25th minute.
April’s EFL player of the month Mickey Demetriou then tested the gloves of Collin but the keeper safely held his 30-yard freekick.
That brought up the half-hour mark of the game in which County had clearly dominated and were growing ever stronger as the half progressed.
And it wouldn’t be long before County had a terrific opportunity to get the goal their efforts deserved. After being denied penalties all season, the Exiles finally got one in the 32nd minute.
And it would be Demetriou that smashed County into the lead, sending the full capacity into rapture at Rodney Parade. The defenders rich vein of form in-front of goal continued with his 4th in just seven games.
‘We are staying up’ rang around Rodney Parade as safety drew ever closer and the pre-match nerves were eased somewhat.
But the Exiles knew the job wasn’t over yet and continued to bombard the opposition with high balls into the area.
And when the visitors weathered the storm, they created a decent opportunity. But again, Jorge Grant’s effort sailed past the post.
And County would come close to doubling their advantage right at the end of the three additional minutes. Randall’s cross field delivery found David Pipe in the area, whose headed effort had to smartly saved by the visiting goalkeeper.
That brought proceedings to a close for the first half in which County had clearly dominated. Notts County looked dangerous on the break in the first half but County were truly putting together their best
performance of the season. There was no doubt that County deserved to be leading at the interval after creating the better opportunities all half. The job certainly wasn’t over but the ground knew that the ‘Great Escape’ was edging ever nearer.
The side returned to a standing ovation to reward them for their efforts in the opening 45.
But it would be the visitors who created the opening attempt of the second half.
Grant, seemingly on the end of every attack smashed over again – this time from a freekick.
To their credit, the visitors were the better team in the opening ten minutes but couldn’t get anywhere near the goal, courtesy of a stubborn County defence.
John-Lewis would create County’s first opportunity of the half in the 57th minute. After controlling the ball superbly in the area, he tried an acrobatic bicycle-kick which went narrowly over.
And County would come narrowly close again just seconds later.
This time it was Ryan Bird to try his luck, and his optimism nearly paid off when his 50-yard volley only just crept wide.
And County would be made to pay for not doubling their advantage when Notts County equalised.
A well-crafted delivery into the area evaded everyone but Jorge Grant who finally took one of his opportunities to level just after the hour.
Elliott Hewitt then came close to getting another for the visitors but his effort drifted wide.
And Grant would come close again on 66 minutes but Joe Day saved smartly. On a counter-attack, John-Lewis fired over.
The game was turning into a really open contest befitting of the occasion with both teams looking likely when coming forward.
Flynn would make two substitutions in the 71st minute to try to turn the tide full in County’s favour. Sean Rigg and Marlon Jackson came on for Mark Randall and Lenell John-Lewis.
Shola Ameobi would be the first player to receive a yellow card in the game, for what appeared to be dissent.
Jon Stead then found himself with a glorious opportunity to give the visitors the lead but his shot lacked power and conviction.
It was getting all too nervy for the Exiles and Flynn decided to throw on another striker as Aaron Williams replaced Owen-Evans.
Rigg fired a shot wide just after as it got all the more tense at Rodney Parade.
And just at it looked like County hearts were going to be broken, Mark O’Brien popped up with a goal that means so much for the club.
With a minute to go, the Irishman smashed home a volley to send Rodney Parade into jubilant scenes.
4 additional minutes did nothing to ease the nerves. But County held on to confirm their safety and set up joyous scenes on the pitch after the whistle.
The Great Escape is complete!
County: Day, Butler, Pipe, Demetriou, O’Brien, Labadie (C), Owen-Evans (Williams 84), Bennett, Randall (Rigg 71), Bird, John-Lewis (Jackson 71)
Subs not used: Bittner, Myrie-Williams, Barnum-Bobb, Nelson
Notts County: Collin, Dickinson (Bola 57), Duffy (C), Hollis, Ameobi, Milsom, Grant, Hewitt, Clackstone, Stead, Howes (Smith 57)
Subs not used: Searson, Thompson, Osborne, Campbell, Campbell
Referee: Nigel Miller