Following a sparkling opening half of attacking football, in which the hosts were a tad unfortunate to only be leading by the one goal at the break, the Exiles were slightly more conservative in the second period, and paid the ultimate price as they continue to learn just what an unforgiving set-up this League Two malarkey is. Home debutant Billy Jones couldn’t have had a better start, rifling home a stunning strike with his very first touch; and by the time Robbie Willmott had thrashed in a second, County were thoroughly enjoying themselves and should have added more. That they didn’t when the opportunities arose is another harsh lesson concerning the realities of League football.
Looking somewhat alien, albeit rather dapper whilst showcasing their new all-black away strip, Newport were out of the blocks in trice and had their noses in front with just two minutes gone. The lively Conor Washington played a loose ball out to the left and full-back Billy Jones spanked home a quite splendid goal. It set the tone for an incredibly entertaining half of football in what was the very first meeting between these two clubs; Washington should really have added a second, fluffing his lines when presented with a one-on-one with goalkeeper Barry Roache.
On 12 minutes the Shrimps earned themselves parity when the unlucky Naylor scored the first of his ‘oggies,’ the defender bundling in whilst trying desperately to clear a Kevin Ellison header. Unperturbed, Newport struck back and Robbie Willmott soon had the Exiles back in front. Once again it was an excellent strike; Willmott smashing the ball home spectacularly via both crossbar and post, both of which were left shuddering in his wake. County were playing some nice stuff now and Washington almost made it three before Naylor headed a Chapman corner over the bar.
The second period began with a warning; despite Newport’s dominance up to this point, Morecambe had always looked dangerous on the break and Harry Worley was on hand to clear a Padraig Arnold header off his goal line. Sadly on 57 minutes, an incident occurred that poor Tom Naylor and goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley will want to forget quickly; and County simply never recovered. There appeared little danger too, when a major communication failure resulted in Naylor nodding in an innocuous cross with his keeper already out and committed to the catch. It happens.
The day only proceeded to get worse for poor Naylor; on 71 minutes referee Mr. Sarginson was pointing to the spot after a clumsy challenge upended Ellison inside the box, it never rains eh! Padraig Arnold gratefully whacked home the spot kick and from thereon, not even the introduction of talisman Christian Jolley could save County from experiencing their first home defeat since gaining promotion.
“I’m not going to kid anyone” said a disappointed Justin Edinburgh afterwards; “If you give goals away like that then you’re going to lose games. The second own-goal rocked us and then we conceded a needless penalty. Tom will learn from that, it’s just one of those days for him. He’s been excellent for us since he arrived; but everything that could go wrong for him today went wrong. Good players bounce back though, and I’ve no doubt he will because he’s a very good player. You don’t always learn from playing well, you learn from your mistakes. It’s the first time we’ve had a real set-back as a group this season, it’s all about how we bounce back now.”