Entertaining football was the biggest victim at Rodney Parade, as the two sides that came up from the Conference together last season duelled in a bruising contest. A plethora of bookings and a dismissal apiece was almost inevitable from the off, as the tackles flew in with neither team prepared to hold back; indeed Lee Minshull’s red card for County was the Exiles’ first for almost 18 months, such has been the excellent turnaround in club discipline under boss Justin Edinburgh. The Tank can have few real complaints however after leading with his elbow; whilst Matt Rhead’s subsequent sending-off for Mansfield was a card many felt was waiting to happen all afternoon.
For Newport, it was a third successive 1-1 draw following a brace of matches on the road, as the Stags became the first side to take something from ‘Dave’ this season. In truth it was an encounter that neither team deserved to win, but still one that County could easily have lost were it not for the defiant agility of Lenny Pidgeley in the home goal. Twice during a dour opening half-hour he denied Mansfield what looked certain goals, whilst Ben Hutchinson narrowly missed the target with a 20-yard daisy-cutter.
All that counted for little on 30 minutes though when suddenly County were ahead; top scorer Chris Zebroski pouncing for his 4th goal of the campaign. Former Stag Adam Chapman whipped over a corner from the left, and Zebroski rose like the proverbial salmon to emphatically bury his header. It was a rare moment of quality during a feisty half in which referee Mr. Phillips was kept extremely busy; both Jolley and McGuire being booked, whilst a Rhead shove in the face of Pipe went unpunished, before the official had to deal with another mass touchline dust-up.
The bulky Rhead might have equalised before the break; first he sent a shot whistling past the upright before forcing another excellent save from Pidgeley. County’s first-choice stopper looks to be back to his commanding best; and his outstanding save from a point-blank header rightly drew rich, appreciative applause. The second-half was equally, if not even more scrappy; both sides struggling to create openings as brute force became the obvious order of the day.
As an attacking force, this was County’s poorest display thus far, so it was no real surprise when Mansfield deservedly levelled on 67 minutes. Again it came from a corner on that same left side; Hutchinson this time sending in a wicked cross that took a deflection off Worley, before sitting up kindly for Sam Clucas to nod into the unguarded net. Zebroski tried manfully to restore Newport’s advantage, his low shot being well held by Marriott; before Stags’ centre-back Dempster was cautioned for a cynical foul on home substitute Washington. ‘Taking one for the team’ I think it’s called.
On 76 minutes, County were reduced to ten men when Minshull received his marching orders for leading with elbow on Riley; whilst Town striker Rhead swiftly followed for an innocuous trip on Worley that saw the official left with no option but to brandish a second yellow under the totting up process. It could have come sooner in truth; it really was that sort of afternoon sadly.
"I'm disappointed” explained boss Justin Edinburgh post-match; “Not with the effort and commitment as I never doubt that from my players, but I didn't think we were brave enough or good enough in possession of the ball and that's probably the worst we've played for a long time. Everyone got caught up in the physical side of the game and we were a hundred miles an hour and trying to get in with one pass; but I can't criticise my team for the way they competed. It was a heated game; there was one or two incidents that were let go where I thought that if they were dealt with early on, then the game wouldn't have got a little bit out of control."
His opposite number Paul Cox added “I thought we were unlucky not to come away with all three points from the chances we had in the first-half alone. If we had taken two or three of the chances we created in the first-half, we would have been out of sight. Unfortunately we found a goalkeeper in inspired form; if we just had a bit of luck up top we could have got all three points. But it's a very tough place to come and we would have probably taken a point before the game.”