Impressive Newport County defied their latest bout of injuries and suspension to roar into the Southern Area Semi-finals of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy, despatching the competition’s most famous name in that of Portsmouth FC. Despite being reduced to ten men in the second-half, County will have perhaps been a tad surprised at the ease of the victory; the fantastic Pompey away following deserved a whole lot more that has to be said. However, you don’t always get what you deserve in this unforgiving game of ours, and the Exiles’ own faithful were simply thrilled by another strong performance at home in which they racked up consecutive RP win number four.
Boss Justin Edinburgh was able to welcome back Robbie Willmott for this one, the utility player having served the ban for his recent red card. However as one door opens, another invariably closes such is County’s wretched luck with personnel right now; and midfielder Adam Chapman was forced to sit this one out having accrued five cautions this term. Elsewhere, Cardiff loanee Adedeji Oshilaja was deemed fit again and able to make his home debut, whilst young keeper Jamie Stephens earned himself a stint between the sticks which afforded Lenny Pidgeley a well-earned rest.
With the large Pompey following coupled with a vociferous home support, it made for a terrific atmosphere inside ‘Dave’ Parade for the lower-ranked competition; and the Exiles got off to a fine start when the ever-dangerous Conor Washington nudged them in front after only five minutes. There seemed little danger until defender Bondz N’Gala inexplicably headed past his own keeper; the ever-alert Washington scarcely unable to believe his luck as he found the empty net from a tight angle.
With the cushion of the lead behind them, County kept on coming and subsequently doubled that advantage 14 minutes later; Deji Oshilaja a delighted scorer in only his second Newport game. Christian Jolley, looking back to his wonderful best teased the Portsmouth rearguard, forcing Romain Padovani to hack him down some 25-yards from goal. Willmott’s venomously-struck free-kick was only parried by keeper Trevor Carson and Oshilaja powerfully headed in from ten-yards.
The Exiles might have even added to that tally in the considerable first-half minutes that remained, Washington again going close; whilst the best Pompey could muster in response was a Shaun Cooper drive on 42 minutes that drew a fine stop from Stephens. Fifteen minutes into the second period, the young keeper, having his best Newport game yet made an even better save; thwarting firstly Padovani and then substitute David Connelly from the rebound. His handling and distribution were likewise eye-catching on a good evening for the deputy.
A free header for Ismail Yakubu was uncharacteristically headed off target on 60 minutes, before Washington might have stretched County’s lead on 65 minutes, bursting clear with only Carson to beat, the visiting goalie emerging victorious on this occasion. Three minutes later, the Exiles were reduced to ten men; skipper David Pipe rightly receiving his marching orders for a reckless challenge on Ricky Holmes right by the corner flag.
Jolley made way for Ryan Jackson as County successfully re-jigged, before Washington put the seal on a fine victory seven minutes from time. Seizing upon a loose ball, the striker danced his way into the area before slotting home coolly into the bottom corner. Even a forward of the calibre of the watching ex Newport boss Dean Holdsworth would have admired that one. The area semis now await the Exiles, as County ensured they were the last League Two side standing in this year’s Paint Trophy.
“Our game management, our game tempo and the chances we created were excellent,” enthused boss Justin Edinburgh afterwards; “I was pleased from start to finish and for long periods we dominated – I thought the players rightly deserved their victory. I thought we defended and attacked as a group and were worthy of the three goals – whilst the back-line and the goalkeeper deserved their clean sheet.” Goalscorer Oshilaja added “The crowd were amazing; I was trying to talk to the rest of the players but couldn’t hear them because the crowd was so loud. They are amazing here. It’s nice to get a goal on your home debut, but the most important thing was that we won and that we’re through to the next round. I’m here till the end of the month and I’m open to staying longer; the way the gaffer breathes confidence into the players here is great.”