Newport County and Braintree Town must do it all again a week Tuesday, after a hard-fought FA Cup draw in Essex failed to separate the sides. Outplayed and out of sorts during a rocky first-half, the Exiles improved tenfold after the break when only some heroic defending from the Iron prevented Newport from completing a fine turnaround. That said, defeat would have been incredibly harsh on the hosts who had gone in front via a terrific early strike, and, with a little more of that famous ‘cup luck,’ might have feasibly added to their tally. As it was, a draw was the fairest outcome and the tie now switches to Rodney Parade to see who will earn the right to travel to Kidderminster in Round Two.
With injuries and a suspension once more forcing his hand, boss Justin Edinburgh made significant changes for this one; both in formation and in personnel. Lining up in a rather unfamiliar 3-4-3, in came skipper David Pipe, Harry Worley, Michael Flynn, Danny Crow and Christian Jolley, with Robbie Willmott, Adedeji Oshilaja and Lee Minshull amongst those not available. In classic wet and muddy FA Cup-upset conditions, County got off to a poor start at Cressing Road, finding themselves behind after only eight minutes. Kenny Davis found Chez Isaac in space; and the latter subsequently rattled a super strike low beyond Lenny Pidgeley from all of 25-yards.
With their tails firmly in the air, the Iron came looking for more; Dan Holman jinked his way down the left flank on 12 minutes before seeing his effort blocked by Worley. A sluggish County were simply not at the races in these early stages, Braintree dominating the possession; Dean Wells the next to trouble Newport when he headed over on 22 minutes. Ten minutes later, Pidgeley saved well from both Davis and Paine within a minute, whilst the interval arrived with the Town keeper still a virtual spectator. The last action of which saw Holman fire over with the Exiles yet to get out of the traps.
Whatever the boss said at the break clearly had the desired effect, County reappearing somewhat unrecognisable to the side that had laboured their way through the first period. Indeed, just five minutes after the restart, the Exiles were on level terms. Christian Jolley picked up the crumbs on the right-hand side of a congested penalty area, and Tom Naylor nodded Adam Chapman’s fine cross in at the far post. There was a suspicion that the final touch may have come from Iron full-back Ryan Peters, both he and Naylor coming together to provide that headed finish; I’m sure the defender will have no qualms however in the credit going to the Newport man.
From thereon, County turned the screw and probably should have gone on to win the tie. On 58 minutes, Braintree keeper Nick Hamann saved well from Chapman, before Naylor unluckily thrashed the rebound against the upright. At the other end, Pidgeley saved well from Holman on 67 minutes, before Newport hit back and Flynn struck the top of the crossbar with Hamann well beaten. Defender Dean Wells was next to deny the Exiles, clearing his line heroically on two occasions as both Chapman and the impressive Naylor were convinced they had given the Exiles the lead.
As we entered the latter stages, County suffered a huge blow when top scorer Chris Zebroski was forced to depart with a suspected dislocated kneecap; it never rains eh! Both sides might have still pinched the tie however; Flynn’s excellent header producing an even better save from Hamann, whilst Pidgeley did likewise to thwart a Holman header that seemed destined to make the net bulge. A draw just about the right result on a dreary wet day in Essex, traditional FA Cup weather. We now go again at Rodney Parade in ten days time to determine which side travels to Worcestershire in Round Two, something that will be a guaranteed first no matter who succeeds; both Braintree and the reformed County having never previously progressed beyond Round One.
“I thought it was a very good cup tie,” insisted County manager Justin Edinburgh afterwards; “We were fully aware of Braintree's good start to the season and they certainly forced us back in the first-half. We didn’t cope with the conditions and we were playing in the wrong areas. We weren’t compact enough but we certainly addressed that after the break, the response my players showed second-half is what I expect. It was a tremendous save from Mike Flynn’s header at the end, but if you hit the target you can’t criticise your players; we did that but the keeper, the post and the crossbar denied us. It was a very good cup tie and the draw was probably the fairest result.”