It was an attacking paradise for Newport County AFC at Cambridge United as Padraig Amond, Jamille Matt and Harry McKirdy all found the target in a comfortable 3-0 victory for the Exiles.
Cambridge must be sick of the sight of County now as this became their sixth successive victory over the U’s – and third this season after a 4-1 victory at The Abbey Stadium in the Carabao Cup and a 4-2 success in the reverse league fixture at Rodney Parade.
The result was of huge significance for the Exiles as the rest of the play-off chasers all won as well, meaning it stays as five points from the top seven still with a game in hand for the Exiles.
Manager Michael Flynn made one change to the side which battled resolutely to secure an eighth clean sheet from the last nine home league games with a 0-0 stalemate against fellow play-off aspirers Swindon Town in midweek.
Joss Labadie was taken off on a stretcher during the first-half of the clash with the Robins and after ten stitches didn’t recover in time, so Matty Dolan came in to help compose a 4-4-2 formation.
Cambridge United manager Colin Calderwood made a total of three changes to his side that knew safety would be virtually secure should they get a positive result of any sort at The Abbey Stadium.
Club captain Gary Deegan, Harrison Dunk and Rushian Hepburn-Murphy all returned in place of the injured George Maris and substitutes Jake Carroll and David Amoo as part of a 4-1-3-2 formation.
Some of the talk pre-match – certainly within the media car on the way to Cambridgeshire anyway – was the fact both Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond had both scored three goals against the U’s already this season.
It was almost perfect then that the pair made it four apiece when giving the Exiles a healthy lead to take back into the dressing room in half-time.
Last weekend, County were involved in the only 0-0 out of the top four divisions, now they were the solitary team in League Two to have two goals by the half-time whistle.
Cambridge must be sick of the sight of the Exiles after five successive defeats in three competitions and it didn’t take long for County to get going this time around.
In-fact, less than four minutes were on the clock as Amond brought up number 22 for the season and halted a barren run of five without a goal.
It’s been written in countless other match reports just how important Robbie Willmott’s crosses have been in league and cup; this one was another pinpoint delivery to the centre of the box and Amond powered a header low and hard past Dimitar Mitov.
Matt was on a similar run to Amond having gone eight without a goal since the bicycle kick at Notts County in February, but he put that streak to bed and grabbed his 18th of the campaign on 34 minutes.
Like Willmott’s crosses, a lot has been penned in these match reports about the hard work and unbelievable design of some of assistant manager Wayne Hatswell’s corner-kick tactics.
The Exiles had tried and failed with a few variations in recent draws with Tranmere Rovers and Swindon yet this one worked an absolute treat to double the advantage.
Willmott put a little bit more power on an otherwise normal set-piece to find Dan Butler in space after he had peeled from the pack. That surprised everyone in the crowd giving the left-back time and space to carve an opening which Matt deflected on its path.
In all honesty, apart from those goals by the Exiles, it was a rather unenterprising first-half with several long balls over the top trying to utilise pace in behind from both sets of attacks.
Ben Kennedy looked lively throughout when he was afforded space on two occasions, skipping several challenges before hitting the stanchion behind the goal with the two attempts.
What the home side offered in response up until half0=-time was very little and the mood of the place was aptly summed up by a couple of Cambridge supporters underneath the press box shouting ‘just lay football.’
In fairness to the U’s, that call – which was definitely heard by the players with the crowd quite near to the touchline – did spark a decent spell of play but Joe Day first made a great save to deny Rushian Hepburn-Murphy and Reggie Lambe missed another chance.
Aston Villa loanee Hepburn-Murphy was the most menacing threat if any from Cambridge and he continued to be a nuisance in the second-half with his burst of speed and trickery when in possession.
He just couldn’t find his way past Day, however, and the Exiles goalkeeper thwarted a potential comeback midway through the second-half with an unbelievable save low to his left-hand side.
The Exiles shot stopper also parried away a Brad Halliday effort from the edge of the area, alongside a couple of George Taft headers to ensure County could sit comfortably on their healthy advantage.
The home side may have made it interesting if they were awarded any of the two penalty appeals which looked like they should have been given, although Ross Joyce was having none of it.
Mitov made himself big to prevent the scoreline being increased before the 80-minute mark – first denying Crofts then Amond, with the County strike force a danger all afternoon and so coordinated both in ideology and awareness.
The Exiles weren’t done with the scoresheet, however, as substitute Harry McKirdy scored his first goal in County colours with 60 seconds remaining.
It was certainly a day for the attackers and McKirdy had little been on the pitch for more than eighty seconds before he turned his marker and calmly slotted past Mitov when the goalkeeper was sold a potential pass and left the far post exposed.
That brought an end to a fantastic afternoon for the Exiles in the Cambridge sunshine, securing a crucial three points that keeps the play-off hopes alive.
Based on that performance, you wouldn’t put it past them to finish in the top seven.
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Day, Poole, Demetriou, O’Brien (C), Butler, Willmott, Dolan (Crofts 60’), Sheehan (McKirdy 88’), Kennedy (Bennett 75’), Amond, Matt
Subs not used: Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Azeez, Bakinson
Cambridge United (4-1-3-2): Mitov, Halliday, Taylor, Taft, Dunk, Deegan (C), Doyle-Hayes, Lambe (Coulson 65’), Brown, Jones (Amoo 36’), Hepburn-Murphy
Subs not used: Forde, Carroll, Darling, Davies, John, Coulson
Referee: Ross Joyce
Attendance: 4,294 (181 AWAY)
Next up for County: Bury FC (19th April 2019) HOME