The prestigious Cheltenham horse racing festival has been taking place all week but at Rodney Parade it was Newport County AFC who were more at the races as they saw off Cheltenham Town in a 1-0 victory.
Not the greatest of spectacles in South Wales – Frodon’s victory for Bryony Frost in the Ryanair Chase yesterday was more exciting in terms of the occasion – but County won’t care as Chris Hussey’s second-half own goal gave them all three points.
Ahead of the remaining League Two fixtures tomorrow, County close the gap on the play-offs to five points with nine fixtures still left to play.
Manager Mike Flynn made one change to the team that suffered an agonising late defeat away at Northampton Town on Tuesday night.
Joss Labadie missed out with soreness to the back and achilles areas, meaning Ade Azeez returned to the starting side as the Exiles still kept to their 3-4-1-2 formation at Rodney Parade.
Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff named an unchanged side in South Wales as the Robins matched up the Exiles with a 3-4-1-2 formation.
That meant former Exile Ben Tozer was named as captain for the Robins, another ex-County player in Cameron Pring helped compose the bench and Newport born Ryan Broom came in at right-wing-back.
It was fair to say that the first-half was somewhat laborious and struggled to inspire the 3,000+ crowd inside Rodney Parade.
Both sides were guilty inside the opening 45 minutes of being caught offside on numerous occasions, misplacing passes in virtually every department of the pitch and smashing the ball out of the stadium.
When chances did come they were certainly few and far between, County only registered one shot on target inside the first-half and even that was a pretty comfortable save for Scott Flinders to deny a Jamille Matt header.
Scot Bennett and Tyreeq Bakinson both sent shots high over the crossbar but that was about it from a County perspective as they couldn’t exploit the numerous long throws they launched into the Cheltenham area.
What was on show from the Robins wasn’t much better either up until half-time. Billy Waters flashed a shot wide after some decent play towards goal, Chris Clements couldn’t connect to a fizzing cross and Jordan Tillson shot straight at Joe Day.
At half-time, Flynn was forced into two substitutions through injury as Mark O’Brien (ankle) and Tyreeq Bakinson were forced off, David Pipe and Josh Sheehan on in their place.
It was just one of those games where you knew if a goal was to come, it wasn’t going to be the most aesthetically pleasing, but fortunately it went the way of the Exiles after 54 minutes.
Padraig Amond beautifully controlled a long ball into the penalty area and with Flinders off his line, the Irishman went for the audacious, Flinders did save it with a retreating leap but could only palm it into Chris Hussey’s face and the ball ended up in the back of the net.
Robbie Willmott could have killed the game when flashing a header wide shortly after County breaking the deadlock, whilst all Cheltenham could muster in an immediate response was a tame header from Will Boyle.
All of a sudden, the game was a lot more open and chances were coming at a regular pace.
County should have killed the game with 22 minutes remaining. Matt raced through after coming off better in a challenge with Broom, but couldn’t hear the call to square to an unmarked Azeez or Amond and Flinders did well to thwart the attack.
Waters saw a shot well saved by Day as Cheltenham threatened an unlikely comeback into the game but that was soon wiped out with 14 minutes to go.
Matt again charged through on goal after outmuscling his marker, but this time Will Boyle tripped himself up when attempting to make a covering tackle and inadvertently hauled the County striker to the floor.
That gave referee Lee Swabey no option but to dismiss the Cheltenham centre-half and it was virtually plain sailing from there for the Exiles to secure all three points.
It wasn’t for the lack of trying by Cheltenham, however, just that County were magnificent in defence and Pipe has to take massive credit for that as he organised the backline throughout when taking over the captain’s armband and led his troops through to victory.
The scoreline could have been made more flattering late on but Flinders thwarted Azeez – who was brilliant in attack even if he didn’t get a goal, just his overall running play and his insistence on working hard to stop Cheltenham attacks at source.
That meant it was third time lucky for the Exiles against Cheltenham this season – not the greatest of contests in South Wales but three points is all that matters, and County’s play-off push is temporarily back on.
Newport County AFC (3-4-1-2): Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C) (Pipe 45’), Poole, Willmott, Bennett, Bakinson (Sheehan 45’), Amond, Matt (McKirdy 90+3’), Azeez
Subs not used: Townsend, Marsh-Brown, Kennedy, Forbes
Cheltenham Town (3-4-1-2): Flinders, Hussey, Boyle, Tozer (C), Raglan, Broom, Tillson, Clements, Dawson (Bingham 65’), Waters (Maddox 86’), Varney (Barnett 65’)
Subs not used: Lovett, Thomas, Forster, Pring
Referee: Lee Swabey
Attendance: 3,192 (242 AWAY)
Next up for County: Yeovil Town (30th March 2019)