A stunning comeback from a two-goal deficit saw County return to the Football League Trophy in fine style after an absence of 25 years. Now under the guise of the ‘Johnstone’s Paint Trophy,’ the competition that dangles the carrot of a Wembley appearance for its finale saw a thrilling encounter in which the Exiles triumphed away to higher league opposition for the second time this season. Crawley’s Broadfield Stadium has proved a somewhat happy hunting ground for County in the past; indeed the Welshmen had been victorious on their last visit too by that same 3-2 scoreline.
Making as many changes as the competition’s rules permitted, Justin Edinburgh opted to rest keeper Lenny Pidgeley amongst others, thus offering up a rare start for young understudy Jamie Stephens. The match had begun in the free-flowing vein we would witness all evening; indeed just 13 minutes had raced by when the hosts took the lead with what looked suspiciously like an own goal. Stephens initially made a fine save to deny Nicky Adams, but as the ball was returned into the packed goalmouth, Emile Sinclair claimed the all-important touch for a goal that looked as if it had been turned in instead by the unfortunate Andrew Hughes. I doubt very much that Tiger will want to challenge Sinclair’s claim to the strike however.
Ten minutes later the hosts were two-nil up, and there was no doubting the scorer on this occasion; Mike Jones netting from inside his own half with a truly audacious effort. Newport’s young keeper was somewhat culpable on this occasion it must be said; his hurried clearance only finding Jones who, a good couple of yards still inside his own half simply returned it into the empty net with delicious aplomb. The incident-packed fare didn’t cease there either; soon Ismail Yakubu was forced to limp off, quickly followed by injured referee Mr. Lewis. Crucially though, it was County who had the final word of an entertaining half; Tony James missing from just a yard out and Danny Crow firing inches wide, before Chris Zebroski halved the arrears on 43 minutes. Michael Flynn did superbly on the right to get to the line and lay a low ball across goal for a chance that top-scorer Zebroski simply couldn’t miss.
Two minutes after the restart, revitalised Newport were on level terms in quite bizarre fashion. Home defender James Hurst made a hash of his back-header and, in a moment of real panic, subsequently hauled back the lurking Danny Crow. Substitute official Mr. Laver pointed straight to the spot before brandishing the red card at the stricken defender; and up stepped Adam Chapman to whip home a perfect penalty, sending Town keeper Paul Jones the wrong way. On level terms and now a man to the good, County smelt blood; and just past the hour mark they completed a remarkable turnaround by taking the lead. In a match that appeared to have absolutely everything, Robbie Willmott crossed from the left and Connor Essam deflected the ball past his own keeper.
Newport might have even pinched a fourth; Willmott saw a ferocious attempt well saved by Jones, whilst at the other end, Stephens saved equally as well from Mat Sadler. Further late stops from Alexander and Proctor preserved Newport’s advantage as never-say-die County held on to record another famous victory. “There was some entertainment throughout the game and good character from my players to get themselves back in the game from gifting two poor goals” explained boss Justin Edinburgh afterwards. “Crawley went for it, they certainly weren't going to look for a draw or to get beaten; and they pressed and they threw men forward, but I thought we saw the game out very well indeed.
“We were playing a League One team sitting in eighth position, so we showed a fantastic amount of character to get back into it and win the game. We’ve beaten a very good team; Crawley have had a very good start to the season and as a club, we have to look at them and try to emulate what they have done.”