Newport County AFC know destiny is in their own hands in terms of the League Two play-offs after a resolute 3-1 home victory over automatic promotion chasers Bury FC.
Mickey Demetriou’s emphatic double alongside a smart finish from Jamille Matt gave County all three points at Rodney Parade, with veteran striker Nicky Maynard getting the goal for the visitors.
After Exeter City suffered a shock home defeat to Crawley Town, the Exiles closed the gap on the top-seven to just two points whereby the game in hand against Oldham Athletic later this month could prove critical.
Mike Flynn made one change to the side which secured a comprehensive 3-0 away victory at Cambridge United last Saturday.
Scot Bennett returned late on last time out from a hamstring injury, but he was fit enough to start at Rodney Parade and took the place of Ben Kennedy in the starting side.
The Exiles switched formation to a 3-5-2 system in order to nullify Bury FC’s attacking formation and their forward-thinking players.
Bury FC manager Ryan Lowe made two changes to his 3-5-2 system as he was boosted by the return of Danny Mayor from suspension and he brought Byron Moore on as well for more pace in defence.
Out went club captain Neil Danns who moved to the bench and Callum McFadzean who missed out completely on the matchday squad.
Several managers including Flynn himself have completed Bury FC on numerous occasions when describing the Shakers as the best footballing side in League Two.
You could see why they were handled that mantle and were second ahead of coming to Rodney Parade as they did look effective on the occasions which they were afforded time and space to make things happen.
But the Shakers weren’t given ample room on more than a handful of occasions throughout such was the defensive resilience of the Exiles in thwarting a side that had scored 98 goals before heading to South Wales.
Scot Bennett won’t get as many plaudits as he probably deserved for his contribution to the contest as his work was more off the ball – sticking to talisman Danny Mayor like glue and prevented the influential midfielder having any impetus on the contest.
It was such a lightning start to the contest that you half wondered whether you were watching a rerun of the Manchester City and Tottenham Hotspur Champions League tie from Wednesday night.
Both sides had a goal apiece inside five minutes and eleven seconds in a frantic opening where County took the lead just after the fourth minute.
One thing County have perhaps been missing in recent weeks has been the ser-piece ability of Matty Dolan. This delivery from a wide free-kick was inch perfect, allowing Demetriou to power home his first of the afternoon with a header into the top corner.
The lead didn’t last long mind as Bury FC found their equaliser in fortunate circumstances with 45 seconds of County’s opener.
A long ball over the top clipped Josh Sheehan’s shirt on the way through which meant Nicky Maynard and Dominic Telford could burst through in the clear, Maynard took it upon himself to take the ball forward before finding the bottom right corner.
Some clever play in and around the Exiles penalty area saw Joe Day tip away a stinging Nicky Adams piledriver, before County retook their lead after 14 minutes of scintillating football.
It’s almost uncountable the number of assists Robbie Willmott has to name this season, his long ball found Jamille Matt in behind and he fired through the legs of Joe Murphy for the third goal of the afternoon.
On 20 minutes, Padraig Amond almost found County’s third after knocking the ball through the legs of Adams, but Murphy got down well to tip the attempt away at his near post.
The direct balls to the frontmen were a constant threat for the Exiles as the Shakers defence just couldn’t live with Matt’s aerial ability and Amond fired a half-volley over the top from another lay-off by his strike partner.
Between them, the strike duo have 41 goals now for the campaign but even their defensive work was brilliant as Jay O’Shea – named in the League Two team of the season – was denied a couple of opportunities on the edge of the area.
Matt was forced to withdraw at half-time with a dead leg and County’s attacking impetus was slightly dampened in the second-half without his height up-front.
Mayor smacked the crossbar on 74 minutes in the only time he was afforded more than an inch of space but that was all Bury FC managed in the second-half as County’s defensive work was again first-class.
A third goal was still required to make things absolutely sure and Demetriou ensured he was taking home the man of the match award by grabbing his second with fifteen minutes remaining.
It always seems Demetriou finds his goalscoring form in April – just look at how many he scored in the Great Escape season in that month – and he clinched all three points with a superb half-volley straight into the roof of the net.
Twinned with Exeter’s surprise defeat to now safe Crawley Town earlier in the afternoon, this result means County have it in their hands regarding a play-off spot.
Four wins from the final four games and top-seven is secured!!
Newport County AFC (3-5-2): Day, Butler, O’Brien (C), Demetriou, Poole, Willmott, Sheehan, Bennett, Dolan (Kennedy 66’), Amond (Bakinson 90+2'), Matt (McKirdy 45’)
Subs not used: Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Randall, Azeez
Bury FC (3-5-2): Murphy, Moore (Lavery 63’), Stokes, Aimson, Wharton, Adams, Mayor, Rossiter, O’Shea (Danns 71’), Maynard, Telford (Omotayo 51’)
Subs not used: Maloney, Thompson, Cooney, Hulme
Referee: Peter Wright
Attendance: 4,433 (449 AWAY)
Next up for County: Macclesfield Town (22nd April 2019) AWAY