Newport County AFC’s perfect start to 2018 has come to an end as a late Michael Rose penalty ensured Morecambe took a point from Rodney Parade in a 1-1 draw.
The Exiles took the lead on 14 minutes after a relatively quiet opening, Ben Tozer superbly reacting to a Frank Nouble flick-on to curl into the top corner from the edge of the six-yard area.
Chances were certainly at a premium in South Wales during the game, although County edged things in terms of possession, and Morecambe duly found their equaliser with 14 minutes remaining.
Away captain Rose calmly slotted home his penalty into the left corner after Day had originally fouled substitute Garry Thompson, as County missed the chance to rise into the play-off positions and have to settle for 8th position following the draw.
Mike Flynn elected to make just the one change to the side that secured a fourth successive 2-1 victory on Friday night against Crawley Town at Rodney Parade.
That saw Mark O’Brien come in for his first start since being dismissed against Lincoln City last month.
Ben White was the player to make way for his vice-captain in a like-for-like change, as the 19-year old missed out on the starting side in a league game for the first time since the opening day of the season.
That did cause a change in the County formation at Rodney Parade, with it looking like a 4-2-3-1 system being implemented by Flynn from the off.
Morecambe manager Jim Bentley made three changes to his side that suffered a narrow 1-0 defeat to Luton Town on Saturday.
Two of those changes came in the midfield of a familiar 3-4-1-2 formation for the Shrimpers, as Andrew Fleming and Aaron Wildig dropped to the bench in place of Alex Kenyon and Adam Campbell.
The final change for the away side came in attack as Kevin Ellison came back into the side in search of his sixth goal against the Exiles from just 11 appearances.
Garry Thompson was the attacking option to make way for the 38-year old as Morecambe looked to continue their impressive League 2 record against the Exiles.
But if anything, it was Exiles who had the better of the opening exchanges even if no clear-cut chances were being created, away goalkeeper Barry Roche punching clear several crosses as possession was evidently all with County in the first ten minutes.
And that pressure finally told as County took the lead just four minutes later.
An inviting delivery from Willmott into the area was superbly flicked on by Frank Nouble into Ben Tozer’s path, who instinctively swung a leg at it to guide it past Roche and into the top corner from the edge of the six-yard area.
That was the midfielder’s second of the season after his winner at Swindon in November, and the Exiles were certainly playing with confidence following the early opener.
Josh Sheehan and Padraig Amond both produced clever flicks in the centre to set Nouble away on the left-hand side, although the cross was a little tame and allowed Roche to safely collect.
It took until the 25th minute for Morecambe to create their first sight at goal. Wycombe loanee Max Muller capitalised on a slip from Scot Bennett in the area, but could only fire straight at Joe Day from 15 yards.
The visitors were clearly inspired by that opening and could probably feel aggrieved to not be level with ten minutes of the half remaining.
Ellison flicked a corner from the front post back into the danger area and captain Michael Rose looked likely to smash an attempt at goal, only for O’Brien to time a challenge to perfection and get it away.
Rose was denied again with a 30-yard volley just after as the away side were starting to get a foothold in the game, even if there were very few clear-cut chances being created by either side.
But County almost provided a double sucker-punch to the Shrimpers in the second of the two additional minutes.
On that occasion Mickey Demetriou rose highest from Willmott’s corner, but with Roche beaten, Ellison scrambled back to his near post and headed clear.
That meant the Exiles took just a one goal advantage back with them to the dressing rooms and you would have to say that they deserved it on the balance of the game.
County were winning all the aerial battles, Demetriou and Amond particularly impressing in the air, although the Exiles could only breach the Morecambe goal on one occasion during the first 45 minutes.
The away side certainly grew into the game the longer it progressed, but clear-cut chances were at a premium in South Wales and Day would have been extremely pleased with the output of his defensive unit in the first-half.
Flynn chose to make a change at half-time to try and press home the advantage that his side had created in the first-half, Sheehan being replaced by Emmanuel Osadebe, who came in for his County debut having joined on loan from Cambridge United last week.
And the midfielder certainly looked accustomed to his role in the midfield during his opening 15 minutes in Amber, firing narrowly wide of the far post in addition to some very sharp touches that nearly produced some openings.
But other than that, it was another case of very few chances being created, Bennett and O’Brien both firing wide on the angle but nothing to test either goalkeeper at Rodney Parade.
Day was eventually forced into a stop on 68 minutes, superbly tipping over a 25-yard effort from Rose after County had twice failed to clear the danger.
Robbie Willmott was providing a constant threat for the Exiles all night, arguably County’s best player throughout the game, and another bursting run almost presented Amond with a header in the area, although the cross had too much speed and went out for a throw-in.
Day was called into action again with 18 minutes to go, this time getting down well to prevent Muller after the defender had wriggled his way into the area and created some space.
Nouble was taken off shortly after as a booking for the striker would have led to a suspension for the Tottenham game on Saturday, as Shawn McCoulsky came on in his place.
But the visitors were gifted a glorious chance to equalise in the 76th minute as Day was adjudged to have felled Shrimpers substitute Garry Thompson.
Rose stepped up and duly dispatched the opportunity into the bottom left corner more with accuracy rather than power as Day went the wrong way.
Steve Old almost turned the game completely on its head with seven minutes to go, County extremely lucky to see the centre-half inadvertently deflect Ellison’s attempt just wide of the far post with Day beaten.
Amond may have won it for County shortly after with a volleyed attempt of his own, Roche reacting well to get a strong foot to it and ensure it didn’t fall to any of the four awaiting County attackers.
McCoulsky came even closer with just 100 seconds of the match left to be played, this time Roche getting a strong hand to his effort on the turn to tip the ball over the crossbar.
But no further chances could be created by either side during the five additional minutes of time added on, as both had to settle for a well contested point at Rodney Parade.
County: Day, Pipe, Demetriou, O’Brien, Bennett, Butler, Willmott, Tozer, Sheehan (Osadebe 45’), Nouble (McCoulsky 73’), Amond (Hayes 86’)
Subs not used: Bittner, White, Reid, Collins
Morecambe: Roche, Lavelle, Old, Muller, Conlan, Rose, Kenyon, McGowan, Campbell (Lang 64’), McGurk (Thompson 64’), Ellison
Subs not used: Nizic, Brough, Fleming, Wildig, Lund
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Attendance: 2,754 (18 AWAY)
Next up for County: Tottenham Hotspur (27th January) Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round (HOME)