Newport County AFC are bringing Middlesbrough back to Rodney Parade for an Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round replay after local Boro boy Matty Dolan struck a stoppage time equaliser for the Exiles in the final seconds to secure a 1-1 draw at the Riverside.
It initially looked like despite a spirited and resolute performance from the Exiles throughout the whole game that they would ultimately be heading out of the competition through Daniel Ayala’s 51st minute header.
But County just don’t know how to be beaten and showed the true magic of the cup with a goal from the last attack of the game. If there was ever a script, it was that Hartlepool born Dolan would score against the team he spent 12 years at as a player and he came off the bench to strike following a goalmouth scramble inside the penalty area.
County are in the hat for the Fifth Round draw of the Emirates FA Cup!
After County were able to secure their first victory in League Two for six weeks last weekend with a resolute performance against Exeter City, Mike Flynn only decided to make one change to the side for the Emirates FA Cup encounter.
Due to reasons which Flynn will clarify in full post-match, Joe Day unfortunately missed the trip to Teesside meaning Nick Townsend came straight into the Exiles starting team for his 8th appearance of the season.
Despite no changes to the outfield players, Flynn slightly tinkered with the team formation into more of a 4-4-2 system, with Antoine Semenyo and Robbie Willmott providing wing support to the usual strike duo of Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond.
Newport born Middlesbrough FC manager Tony Pulis complained of a bout of flu being in the camp ahead of the game and made six changes compared to his last Championship side that scored in stoppage time to salvage a draw with Millwall.
Within the home side was two-time Premier League winner John Obi Mikel, who only signed for the club on Thursday, alongside other players with numerous experience in the Premier League for either Middlesbrough or other clubs, including captain George Friend and former Liverpool winger Stewart Downing.
A total of 58 places separated the sides in the English league system ahead of kick-off at the Riverside, but you wouldn’t have known one was a Championship outfit and the other plying its trade in League Two, as County started with the greater intent and could have taken the lead inside 60 seconds.
Antoine Semenyo had the early running of Middlesbrough right-back Ryan Shotton, and when he skipped past the challenge with ease on 33 seconds, the Bristol City loanee pulled it back for Padraig Amond, but the Irishman couldn’t set himself on the edge of the area and shot over the top.
Every single player in the black and amber of County was giving everything for the cause, the Exiles were playing 4-4-2 but everyone was helping to suffocate the patient build up from Middlesbrough, and that was making them resort to long balls across field to try and carve out an opening.
Even when one cross-field pass did slightly come off from Shotton into Britt Assombalonga, the heart and desire of the County defence to reshuffle the pack and create an unbreachable defensive wall was there for all to see, and the Middlesbrough striker began to get frustrated with the lack of options or space and curled wide twice from distance inside 16 minutes.
Set-pieces did provide Middlesbrough with opportunities to cause havoc inside the penalty area and they had their best moment from a free-kick after 19 minutes of scintillating action.
Lewis Wing swung in an inviting delivery towards the penalty area, Aden Flint ran around the back to beat his marker Mark O’Brien to the header, but couldn’t get anywhere near the correct connection and it sailed over the crossbar.
It cannot be underestimated just how hard Wayne Hatswell works on set-pieces, both for and against the Exiles, and after working on one routine in particular at FA headquarters St Georges Park yesterday, it almost paid dividends.
Apparently taking inspiration from a routine Aston Villa did at the Riverside in their victory last month, it required very intricate play and almost worked exactly like all the practise at the Burton-On-Trent multi-million-pound venue.
Willmott dropped it short into Semenyo, the 19-year old played it back immediately and when Butler pulled off to the back post in oceans of space, Willmott found him but Shotton eventually blocked the attempt from the County left-back.
There could be no arguments whatsoever of the heart and desire shown by the Exiles as the half progressed, more so without the ball as opposed to with it, Bennett and Bakinson superb in their holding roles ahead of the defensive line, and Wing and Semenyo traded attempts from speculative distances.
But set-pieces were always Middlesbrough’s greatest way of getting sights on goal and Wing smacked the crossbar with a curling effort just past the half hour after his initial free-kick was blocked well by the wall.
County were showing no signs of letting up, if anything ending the half with the greater ascendency and could have taken a lead into half-time with their best chance of the afternoon shortly before the interval.
It wasn’t exactly the most pristine of attacks, but they all count just the same, Demetriou then Matt heading on a long ball into the area but Amond couldn’t get the cleanest of connections and Darren Randolph saved well with his legs.
It says just how disciplined County were that they didn’t allow Middlesbrough to muster a shot on target throughout the entirety of the first-half, but the home side started to find their clinical side after the break to carve out more openings.
Again it was dead ball situations that afforded them impetus into the County area and Townsend was forced into his first save of the afternoon after 50 minutes – doing well to adjust and tip an Assombalonga effort wide of the post after it was diverted off the original course by a block from Demetriou.
Still came the home side when looking for that crucial inaugural goal of the contest and they got their reward in the 51st minute.
Frustratingly, it came from Wing’s corner-kick, former Liverpool defender Daniel Ayala rising highest amidst a host of bodies in the penalty area and powering a header inside Townsend’s near post despite the best attempts of the Exiles goalkeeper.
Heads can sometimes drop after conceding the demoralising opener, but County weren’t agitated in the slightest and were mightily unlucky not to hit back inside 60 seconds of kick-off.
It had the memories of Leicester City in the previous round as the build-up was being conducted by the Exiles, almost a carbon copy of Matt’s opener from the game at Rodney Parade, but on this occasion, Randolph read the situation to hold the striker’s attempt after another superb cross from Willmott.
The game was becoming a much more even contest as the game drew into its final 20 minutes, chances coming all the time from both sides, but no further goals as Semenyo flashed a header wide for County and Wing then George Saville were denied by scrambling saves from Townsend.
County had to go for broke as the game turned towards its final embers and Semenyo will be ruing missing a glorious opportunity with just four minutes remaining.
The Exiles had learnt how to use patient build-up after watching Middlesbrough do it for virtually the whole of the first-half, eventually it got played into the area but when found unmarked in the area, Semenyo smashed over the top when the net should have rattled.
County certainly had Middlesbrough worried as they threw the metaphorical kitchen sink at things, the crowd’s nervousness telling you that all was not lost for the Exiles, they were going out fighting and substitute Joss Labadie stung the palms of Randolph.
Just as it looked like it might ultimately be elimination from the competition, County had one final chance and they made it count. In came the ball into the area, five or six players fell amidst a goalmouth scramble, leaving the local boy Matty Dolan to cause pandemonium in the away end by stabbing home in the dying seconds.
The Exiles just don’t know how to be beaten.
Spirited. Resolute. Immense.
Newport County AFC (3-4-1-2): Townsend, Willmott, Demetriou (Dolan 87’), O’Brien (C), Poole, Butler, Bennett, Bakinson (Labadie 78’), Amond (Sheehan 79’), Matt, Semenyo
Subs not used: Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Forbes, Neufville
Middlesbrough FC (4-1-2-3): Randolph, Shotton (McNair 72’), Ayala, Flint, Friend (C), Obi Mikel (Clayton 61’), Saville, Wing, Downing, Assombalonga, Fletcher (Tavernier 80’)
Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Batth, Hugill, van La Parra
Referee: John Brooks
Attendance: 15,794 (1,200 AWAY)
Next up for County: Port Vale FC (29th January 2018) HOME