A classic away performance in Devon saw County notch their historic first league victory on the road, spoiling the Grecians’ 100% home record in the process. Despite their catalogue of injuries, the Exiles were superb on a balmy afternoon in which young striker Conor Washington simply excelled. League football seems to suit the rookie forward and it was another afternoon in which he clearly came of age; his clever, insightful runs and impish instinct terrorising the home defence for long periods. Almost 900 jubilant, visiting supporters only served to make it a day to remember for all the right reasons.
With defensive lynchpin Ismail Yakubu the only change from the side that had lost to Morecambe a week earlier, Newport began on the back foot as a confident City, sat fourth in the table, zipped the ball expertly around the pitch. Thankfully for the visitors, goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, a former Grecian himself, was in commanding form as Exeter found themselves limited to a few hopeful snapshots from range. On 21 minutes, striker Chris Zebroski lobbed Newport’s first real opportunity over the Exeter bar, before Conor Washington went one better just two minutes later.
The home defence failed to deal with a long throw from Adam Chapman, and Washington expertly repositioned himself before burying his shot past home custodian Artur Krysiak in true poacher-style. Buoyed by their advantage, County began to flex their muscles and enjoy a spell of real dominance; Michael Flynn almost adding a second when his low shot arrived straight at a rather relieved Krysiak. City responded and Pidgeley saved brilliantly from Liam Sercombe, before Alan Gow inexplicably headed wide with the goal at his mercy.
A change at the break saw Tony James replace Billy Jones for the Exiles, and County began the half as the side in the ascendancy. Now attacking their own army of supporters and dominating possession for lengthy periods, Robbie Willmott brought a terrific save out of Krysiak on 53 minutes with a 20-yard curled effort. Moments later, Flynn struck a low drive from even further out and was hugely unlucky to see it cannon back off the upright with the Exeter keeper beaten. Newport were thoroughly enjoying themselves now and a killer goal appeared to be only a matter of time away.
Indeed that security blanket of a second goal duly arrived on 70 minutes, the outstanding Washington this time turning provider. Turning his marker Scot Bennett and outpacing him to the bye-line, Washington delivered a low ball across the crowded goalmouth that picked out the unmarked Harry Worley on the far side; the big defender taking one touch before thrashing it into the roof of the net to spark delirious scenes behind that goal. Tom Naylor was then introduced into midfield for Willmott, as confident County saw the game out, albeit not without suffering the odd hairy moment; both Yakubu and Worley having to bravely clear off the line as the minutes ticked away.
“It’s ever so pleasing,” explained delighted boss Justin Edinburgh afterwards; “We hadn't won since the 17th of August which seems like a long time ago now. But packed in amongst that run since, we've had some real good performances and probably not got what we've deserved. But we really had to earn our win against a very good Exeter side today and I felt we were very worthy of our victory. I think we’ve really underestimated what we’ve achieved so far without six or seven first team players. We’ve got a clean sheet and our first away win; I’m absolutely delighted for the players.”