County earn point in gritty performance
Newport County AFC managed to secure a dogged point at Roots Hall against fellow promotion hopefuls Southend United with a goal-less draw on a stormy Friday night in Essex.
With many football fans checking for last minute transfer deals on ‘deadline day’ County and Shrimper supporters were more interested in the weather forecast as the rain started to fall at the ground by mid-afternoon.
The referee, who survived a choppy crossing from the Isle of Wight en route to Southend-on-Sea deemed the pitch playable and both manager were in agreement as the swirling wind and driving rain battered the east coast prior to kick off.
County lined up in a 3-5-2 formation with Worley, Naylor and Sandell receiving support from wing-backs Willmott and Pipe. A new look front line in Bedford born duo Howe and Jeffers were supported by a three man midfield of Burge, Minshull and Adam Chapman who was returning from a 2 match suspension after accruing his 10th caution of the season in the last home match against Northampton Town back on 4th January.
The home side started brightly and new signing Lee Barnard was linking well with Corr and Hurst on his return to Roots Hall from Southampton. The heavy pitch meant trying to play fast, fluid football was difficult but gradually Newport County AFC came into the game showing more composure in possession.
Chapman and Minshull were protecting the back 3 allowing Burge to push forward and break through the lines of Howe and Jeffers. It was Southend though who created the first real chance when Barnard showed neat control on the edge of the area before driving into the box only for Naylor to make a last ditch tackle as the ball trickled wide of the post resulting in the first corner of the game.
County responded with a corner of their own after 10 minutes and when the ball was cleared to the edge of the area Chapman volleyed towards goal but was unable to keep his shot down and it sailed over the bar into the home end. As Newport County AFC kept the pressure on Worley placed a side footed effort towards the corner of the goal that was deflected wide by centre back Phillips of Southend.
Chapman and Burge were combining well in the midfield and were the stand out players of the first half alongside central midfielder Timlin for Southend. Phil Brown opted for a 4-4-2 set up and encouraged the full backs White and Coker to push on at every opportunity. It was from a White cross that Southend forced the first real save of the game as Atkinson headed downwards at the near post but Pidgeley was equal to it and turned it onto the post before the ball was cleared to safety.
Pidgeley was again called into action as he came out bravely to deny Barnard as the game started to open up with the ball zipping off the wet surface. Jeffers and Howe then combined well before Howe played a neat reverse pass into the path of Burge who was stopped in his tracks on the edge of the 18 yard box by Southend centre back Thompson. Despite protestations from the County fans and players the referee awarded a free-kick to the home team.
As the first half came to a close both teams earned a flurry of corners but neither could break the deadlock as the referee blew his whistle to allow players to change their muddy shirts and fans to get a warm cuppa away from the rain.
Half Time 0-0
Phil Brown made one change for the second half with Straker replacing top scorer Corr but it was County who dominated the opening exchanges with Willmott pushed forward into a more advanced role on the right and debutant Jeffers playing wider on the opposite flank. Howe released Jeffers after 47 minutes and the young striker showed confidence to take on the Southend defence and drilled a left foot shot from just inside the area that was straight at Bentley in the home side’s goal.
On 51 minutes County again pressed forward and Willmott played the on-rushing Burge through into the right hand side of the 18 yard box past the defence. Phillips couldn’t keep up with the County midfielder and hauled him back to give the referee little option but to award a penalty. After an initial debate between Howe and Willmott, Sandell passed the ball to designated penalty taker Willmott who placed the ball on the spot and drove his effort wide of goal into the County faithful. Despite this set-back County remained dominant with Willmott looking dangerous on the right.
After 70 minutes Max Porter came on for Adam Chapman who had impressed on his return to the starting line-up linking up well with Minshull and Burge in the midfield. Porter was immediately into the action exchanging passes with Willmott before the latter sent a dangerous cross into the box that was cleared before Jeffers could connect.
Timlin then sent a low 25 yard drive just wide although the referee felt Pidgeley got a slight touch to turn it around the post. Eastwood was brought into the action for Southend United instead of and then Timlin was taken off and Clifford came into play. Jeffers was substituted for new boy Jeffers with 15 minutes to play as the energy sapping conditions began to take their toll. With 10 minutes to go Burge took a knock to the ankle and was replaced by Flynn.
Eastwood was straight into the action as he headed back across goal but no-one from the home team was on hand to finish. The game was opening up as the heavy pitch cut up and meant defenders were never at ease.
As the fourth official put his board up to indicate 4 minutes added time, Willmott drove at the heart of the Southend defence from inside his own half. Realising the centre back Thompson was flat footed, the County midfielder changed pace with ease and moving from right to left he approached the area with just Bentley to beat. As the Southend keeper slid out Willmott attempted to dink the ball into the net but Bentley got a touch on the ball to make a save that enabled Southend to obtain a point in an exciting end to a competitive match.
There was little to choose between these 2 teams and the 165 County fans in the 5,993 crowd who braved the conditions would be proud of the effort and commitment shown by the players which will set the squad up for a busy February with 4 out of the 5 games next month at home.
Full Time 0-0
County: Pidgeley, Pipe (capt.), Chapman (Porter 70), Minshull, Willmott, Sandell, Jeffers (Jolley 74), Burge (Flynn), Naylor, Worley, Howe
Subs: Stephens, Hughes, Porter, Flynn, Jackson, Anthony, Jolley
Caution: Minshull (85)
Southend United: Bentley, White (capt.), Coker, Phillips, Timlin (Clifford 73), Corr (Straker 45), Atkinson, Hurst, Leonard, Thompson, Barnard (Eastwood 70)
Subs: Laird, Eastwood, Straker, Clifford, Payne, Gomis, Smith
Referee: James Linington
Att: 5,993 (165)