County swept aside away-day specialists Southend with an avaricious display that saw them climb into the League Two play-off positions. The visitors, without a defeat on their travels since August, were no match on an afternoon in which five or six Newport goals wouldn’t have flattered the insatiable hosts. Only the woodwork and the agility of the Shrimpers’ keeper kept the scoreline looking respectable during a rampant second-half against the club where Exiles’ boss Justin Edinburgh began his playing career. “From start to finish, that was as good as I’ve seen us play; the best this season without a doubt,” enthused the delighted County manager afterwards.
Afforded the luxury of naming a full quota of substitutes for only the second time this campaign, County were unchanged from the side that had drawn at Plymouth in midweek; whilst the visitors’ bench included an Exile legend and Spytty crowd favourite in prolific former forward, Craig Reid. Following a lively start, it was the Shrimpers who almost drew first blood on six minutes; Cauley Woodrow racing onto Conor Clifford’s through ball before firing wide of Lenny Pidgeley’s exposed far post. County hit back and United keeper Daniel Bentley produced the first of what would be several outstanding saves; acrobatically turning Lee Minshull’s volley around his post.
You sensed that the opening goal wasn’t too far away and it duly arrived on 23 minutes; Conor Washington seizing upon a rare error of judgement from the impressive Southend keeper. Rushing out in an attempt to intercept Robbie Willmott’s cheekily lofted pass, Bentley completely missed the ball allowing Washington the luxury of an unguarded net, which he calmly found from 18-yards. The young Newport striker was soon tormenting the Shrimpers’ defence again; Ben Coker on hand this time to clear the danger after Washington had ghosted past Luke Prosser.
County were forced into a change on 26 minutes, when Tony James limped off with a fit-again Andrew Hughes replacing him. The action continued to flow seamlessly, but it was the visitors who struck next; drawing parity on 41 minutes thanks to a deliciously taken free-kick. Hughes was a tad unlucky to have been adjudged to have fouled Kevan Hurst; but Ben Coker showed no mercy whatsoever by curling an exquisite 20-yard set-piece into Pidgeley’s top corner. Unperturbed, rampant Newport were soon back on the offensive and nudged themselves back in front just as the half-time kettle began to cheerfully whistle. Lee Minshull headed a Willmott corner back across goal, and Andrew Hughes rose superbly at the far post to guide his header in off the upright.
The Exiles began the second period as they meant to go on too; the outstanding Washington stinging Bentley’s fingertips with a 20-yard bullet after jinking inside from the left. Newport were not to be denied for long and eight minutes into the half, it was indeed 3-1 when Ismail Yakubu powered home an emphatic header. Once again it was Washington creating the panic, this time crossing from the left leaving the unmarked Yakubu to simply bury his header. Shortly afterwards, County suffered a second defensive blow when Hughes, an earlier substitute himself, experienced a recurrence of his hamstring strain and had to be replaced by David Pipe; the skipper slotting well into an unfamiliar centre-back berth.
However, the usually mean defensively Southend looked a beaten side now, as Newport continued to pour forward at will. How County didn’t add to their tally thereafter would remain a mystery that perhaps only Shrimpers keeper Bentley could explain. Chris Zebroski was inches wide with a vicious low drive on 59 minutes, whilst three minutes later, only the post denied Washington a deserved second; his low shot striking the inside of the upright before rebounding kindly into the grateful arms of Bentley. A rousing home reception for former hero Craig Reid was next, when he entered the fray for Woodrow on 68 minutes.
Still it was all County; Adam Chapman was next to be thwarted, Bentley producing another outstanding stop, before Minshull was denied in similarly spectacular fashion on 76 minutes. Zebroski had another drive saved, before Ryan Jackson had a header cleared from the line by Rob Kiernan. Willmott took a turn in trying to beat the stubborn keeper next; only to suffer the same fate as his predecessors as Bentley brilliantly parried his drive away for a corner. As the clocked ticked towards injury time, Jackson fired wide following another lung-busting run, before that man Bentley had the final say with another great save from Chapman.
“We were undone by a good team who knew how to play the conditions better than us,” explained Southend boss Phil Brown afterwards. Home manager Justin Edinburgh went on to say, “I thought we were excellent; without the outstanding goalkeeper that was in front of us, we would have won by a far bigger margin. We controlled the game well against a team that do very well away from home, they’ve had some excellent results on the road but we were very good today. It’s difficult for teams to come here, we’re a good side at home; we play good football and scored some good goals. It’s been a good week taking seven points from nine; I’m absolutely delighted with the start we’ve made.”