A difficult afternoon for Newport County AFC saw them slip slightly further back in the hunt for the League Two play-offs following a 3-0 defeat at Colchester United.
The home side harbour top-seven ambitions themselves and they controlled proceedings from start to finish and led by two at half-time thanks to a neat finish from Sammie Szmodics then a stunner by Courtney Senior.
Ex-Exile Frank Nouble made the scoreline even more comfortable in the second-half with yet another stunner into the top corner as the Exiles were condemned to a heavy defeat in Essex.
The result sees the gap on the play-offs increase to seven points but still with that game in hand and County will be looking for the immediate response on Tuesday night at Northampton Town.
Manager Mike Flynn made one change to the starting side that secured a morale boosting 2-0 victory over Carlisle United last weekend at Rodney Parade.
Matty Dolan – who was taken off in the first-half of the victory – missed out entirely and didn’t travel with the squad yesterday, Joss Labadie coming in as the Exiles again fielded a 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
In the build-up to kick-off, the Exiles made a surprise signing with the addition of free agent Will Randall and he was named immediately on the bench having trained with the squad for a few weeks.
Colchester United manager John McGreal made three changes to his side that dropped out of the play-offs last time out following a heavy away defeat at Swindon Town.
Danger duo Luke Norris and Sammie Szmodics passed fitness tests to come back into a 4-2-3-1 formation, Tom Eastman also returned, as Luke Prosser, Diaz Wright and Brennan Dickenson all dropped to the bench.
There was one major difference between the sides throughout the entirety of the contest and that was the exuberance, athleticism and sheer hard work of influential Colchester left winger Courtney Senior.
The 21-year old had the freedom of the Essex surface throughout the game such was his ability to glide past people and cause problems, and he could do no wrong as Colchester played everything down his wing.
He didn’t have a direct impact in the first goal, but it was still a well-crafted move from the home side and ultimately punished the Exiles’ inability to play to the whistle with the opener after 20 minutes.
Mikael Mandron dinked a crisp pass into the penalty area from 30 yards, ex-Exile Ryan Jackson went to ground inside the box and seemingly handled the ball – no foul of any sort was given, County had a lapse in concentration, and Szmodics passed home his 12th of the season.
County were guilty throughout the first-half of giving the ball away in dangerous areas and Colchester would have punished the Exiles further had it not been for the superb performance from Joe Day.
On 23 minutes, Szmodics played a showstopping pass to split through the heart of the County defence, but Day had rushed from his area to beneficial effect to thwart Senior on the run through when in one on one.
The transitional play from Colchester was the most impressive attribute of their play and they were able to turn defence into attack every time in as little as three passes and there was a clear understanding of what their intentions were when attacking on goal.
Norris wasn’t too far away with a shot across goal when he was the benefactor of a swift counter-attack, whilst Eastman also came close with a header from an in-swinging free-kick by Senior.
It was only a matter of time before the lead was going to be extended, unfortunately, and it came deep into first-half stoppage time as Senior got the goal his performance deserved.
The left winger’s performance was sublime so his goal was obviously going to be up there as well, he picked the ball up 30-yards out after Norris’ free-kick was deflected back before smashing into the bottom corner.
Unfortunately, County just couldn’t get going, certainly before half-time anyway, and struggled to string a succession of passes together such was the dominance from the home side.
Jamille Matt did send a shot into the side netting inside 60 seconds but realistically, that was about it from a County perspective until the half-time whistle.
There was a brief glimpse of encouragement upon the restart and a sustained period of possession was almost rewarded with a route back into the contest, but Rene Gilmartin made a stunning save to deny a powerful header from Labadie.
It just wasn’t County’s day, however, and the game was put beyond any doubt after 63 minutes of the contest through another Colchester stunner.
Nouble – who saw a shot cleared off the line in the reverse fixture back in November – was always going to have an impact as some stage and he danced and jived his way to a dangerous position before rocketing a stunning strike into the top corner from an acute angle.
Credit to Colchester for the way they were able to control proceedings and again Senior was running the show, he was again thwarted by Day when in on goal when he perhaps could have squared for a Szmodics tap-in, then also fired just wide from distance.
It was no coincidence that County did start to create things again upon Senior’s withdrawal to a more than deserved standing ovation, Randall came on for his debut and looked lively with quick feet, but still there wasn’t too much in the way of chances troubling Gilmartin.
Colchester substitute Brennan Dickenson had the final chance in the dying embers, but Day made another fine stop – a difficult afternoon for the Exiles and not the best way to celebrate two years to the day since Mike Flynn first took charge at the club.
Newport County AFC (4-1-2-1-2): Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C), Poole, Bennett, Labadie (Bakinson 78’), Willmott, Amond, Azeez (McKirdy 53’), Matt (Randall 71’)
Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Sheehan
Colchester United (4-2-3-1): Gilmartin, Jackson, Eastman, Kent, Vincent-Young, Mandron, Stevenson, Senior (Eisa 82’), Szmodics (Chilvers 89’), Nouble (Dickenson 68’), Norris
Subs not used: Barnes, Prosser, Roberts, Wright, Chilvers
Referee: Lee Collins
Attendance: 3,213 (141 AWAY)
Next up for County: Northampton Town (12th March 2019) AWAY