Newport County AFC and Port Vale couldn’t be separated at Rodney Parade as two stern defences ensured neither side could break the deadlock in a 0-0 draw in League Two.
Scott Brown’s looping save to deny Padraig Amond prevented County’s best chance of the evening, whilst Exiles shot stopper Nick Townsend only had simple saves to make in a game where chances came at a premium.
The draw means the Exiles rise one place in the League Two table to 13th, closing the gap on the play-off positions to seven points, although it is only the one game in hand on the top-seven with 18 games remaining.
After exerting incredible fitness and desire to strike in stoppage time against Middlesbrough in the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday, Mike Flynn elected to make just the one change from the starting side at the Riverside.
That alteration was forced as Antoine Semenyo’s loan spell with the club was brought to a premature end on Sunday by parent club Bristol City, as Joss Labadie returned to the starting side for the first time since tweaking his hamstring on Boxing Day.
With the change not necessarily being like-for-like, the Exiles did slightly alter the team formation, this time more of a 3-4-1-2 system, with Nick Townsend again preferred in goal.
Port Vale manager Neil Aspin mirrored his counterpart Flynn when also choosing to make one change to his starting side which last played on Saturday during a home league defeat to Carlisle United.
The Valiants are currently experiencing an attacking crisis with talisman Tom Pope injured and Ricky Miller suspended, so ex-Exile Mark Harris made his first start for the club to lead the line in a 3-4-2-1 formation.
It wasn’t the most enterprising of first-half’s at Rodney Parade as both teams seemed to struggle to create opportunities against each other amidst two resolute and organised midfield systems.
Such was the lack of chances in the inaugural 45 minutes that County’s only sight of goal came inside the opening six minutes.
It was certainly one of the better architected movements in the first-half as Padraig Amond worked space in the area to meet Nick Townsend’s long kick down field, attempting to chip Scott Brown with a first-time looping effort, but the Valiants goalkeeper lept back into his goal well to tip the shot over the crossbar.
Port Vale – after a somewhat sluggish start to proceedings – seemed to wake up to the first opportunity of note and carved out all the other chances up until half-time.
Implementing a counter-attacking style of play, defender James Gibbons was first to sting the palms of Townsend on nine minutes, before away captain Antony Kay came close with a header.
When they did manage to effectively breakaway from an initial County attack, the Valiants certainly knew how to play intricate football up the pitch with pace and Townsend had to leap across goal to thwart a Luke Hannant header following a menacing delivery from Nathan Smith.
That came on 23 minutes and there was only one other opportunity before referee Neil Hair’s half-time whistle – such was the resilience at the back from both sides.
Manny Oyeleke – selected pre-match as the Port Vale one to watch – dazzled through the challenges of three County defenders to get into the box, but struggled to maintain his trickery inside the area and Townsend was able to save well with his feet after a scuffed shot.
The second-half started in much the same vein as chances still came at a premium, Tyreeq Bakinson shooting high and wide twice for County, whilst Mark Harris and Luke Joyce could only hit straight at Townsend with tame efforts.
Still the chances failed to be produced, Jamille Matt couldn’t quite get his feet sorted in the area when attempting to set-up substitute Matty Dolan, whilst fellow substitute Keanu Marsh-Brown smashed wide from an acute angle.
The game needed something to liven it up, but no-one in the stadium could have expected it be sparked by an overzealous challenge from Gibbons on Dan Butler with five minutes remaining that resulted in an immediate red card for the Valiants defender.
That gave County the impetus to change into an attacking 3-4-3 system and Marsh-Brown gave Port Vale the warning sign that all the action would come from the Exiles with a rising shot that sailed over the crossbar.
It was now about whether County could make the man advantage count, they had four minutes of additional time to get one, but Sheehan shot wide at the death meaning the points were shared at Rodney Parade.
Newport County AFC (3-4-1-2): Townsend, Willmott (Dolan 57’), Poole, O’Brien (C), Demetriou, Butler, Bakinson (Sheehan 81’), Bennett, Labadie (Marsh-Brown 70’), Amond, Matt
Subs not used: Day, Pipe, Forbes, Neufville
Port Vale FC (3-4-2-1): Brown, Rawlinson, Smith, Crookes, Gibbons, Kay (C), Joyce, Clark, Oyeleke, Hannant (Elliott 45’), Harris
Subs not used: Hornby, Montano, Worrall, Pugh, Conlon
Referee: Neil Hair
Attendance: 2,534 (63 AWAY)
Next up for County: Grimsby Town (2nd February 2019)