A gritty County performance resulted in back-to-back league victories being recorded for the first time since our elevation to League two, as visitors Torquay gave the home faithful an uncomfortable afternoon. A drab opening half was eventually illuminated with two Exiles goals inside seven fruitful minutes, courtesy of the outstanding Ismail Yakubu and striker Danny Crow. However fingernails were soon being gnawed down to the wood during a tense second period in which the never-say-die Gulls threw everything at Newport in their bid to salvage a point. Thankfully, County just about hung in there to notch up their second victory over a team from the West Country in a week.
Manager Justin Edinburgh had sprung a surprise pre-match, opting to give Crow a first league start of the season in place of former Gull, and top scorer Chris Zebroski. An uninspiring start to the game yielded nothing remotely resembling a goal opportunity, indeed another healthy home crowd seemed almost bored until the County suddenly made a breakthrough just before the half hour. Robbie Willmott fired over a pinpoint free-kick and Ismail Yakubu rose powerfully at the far post to head home his first goal of the season.
It woke the snoozing faithful from their slumber and within seven more minutes, Newport had pilfered a delightful second. Once again Willmott was involved as he found the game’s best player, the ever-eager Conor Washington on the left flank. Just as he had done so at Exeter a week earlier, the slippery front-runner skipped to the bye-line, before cutting back a perfect ball that allowed Danny Crow to bury a shot past visiting keeper Martin Rice. As the half-time whistle loomed, it was almost three as Rice saved well from Washington after Crow had returned the favour.
County started the brighter after their interval cuppa too; and it required a terrific clearance from Krystian Pearce to keep the Gulls’ deficit at two on 49 minutes. That prompted Torquay boss Alan Knill into a change and four minutes later, on-loan Charlton forward Adebayo Azeez sprinted on for his United bow. It was to prove an inspired move, the sheer pace and enthusiasm of the striker transforming the Gulls’ attacking options as County were forced to switch to a wholly more defensive mode. Lenny Pidgeley was called into serious action for the first real time, the keeper turning a Dale Tonge effort around his upright.
It was a clear warning and just four minutes after his introduction, Ade Azeez had indeed halved the arrears with a debut goal; racing forward, he played a neat one-two with Ben Harding before firing in low at the near post. It signalled the jitters for Newport and Torquay were all but camped in the Exiles’ half now. Pidgeley saved well again, this time from Billy Bodin; before the son of ex-Ironside Paul was rightly cautioned for an outrageous dive inside the home penalty area. The home defence were under serious pressure and Zebroski and Naylor were introduced to pep County.
Washington might have restored the two-goal advantage in a rare home breakaway, but the striker appeared to be fouled as he burst clear; an offence that referee Mr. Williamson seemed rather disinterested in, despite the incredulous howls from the terrace. Deep into stoppage time, Washington again wriggled free; alas he was foiled by the legs of goalkeeper Rice, before one last Torquay raid saw Azeez fire wide from an excellent position, cue huge sighs of relief all round.
“We seem to play better away from home at the moment”, admitted match-winner Danny Crow afterwards; “The way we play has always been attacking, there are a lot of goals in this team and we still have Christian Jolley and Aaron O’Connor to come back. We beat a very good team at Exeter last week and Torquay have got some very good individuals, so for us to get another win was the most important thing.” Fellow scorer Ismail Yakubu added, “It was a great cross from Robbie, I was just trying to get it across goal and fortunately, it went on target and I scored. It was a good team performance, and in the second-half we held strong and defended well; the three points is the most important thing.”
“I thought we were excellent apart from a seven-minute period in the game when we conceded two goals”, said Gulls boss Alan Knill; “If we concede only one, then I think we could have won the game. Indeed I was still confident we could actually go on to win the game; we score and they stop coming forward as much, but we still created opportunities. We had a positive mindset in the second-half when it would have been easy to fade, because this is a tough place to visit.”