REPORT | Newport County AFC vs Accrington Stanley FC
Ryan Bird scored the game’s only goal on the hour, bundling home after Mark Randall had first been denied by Marak Rodak.
The result, twinned with Hartlepool’s home defeat to Barnet means that County are out of the relegation zone for the first time since 19th November.
Flynn made three changes to the side that lost at Plymouth Argyle on Monday – two tactical and one enforced. Ryan Bird regained his starting spot as did Mark O’Brien and Joss Labadie, who replaced Darren Jones, Scot Bennett and Mitch Rose respectively.
John Coleman elected to make one change to his side that saw off Crawley Town on Monday. Captain Scott Conneely missed the game as his first child was born an hour before kick-off. Noor Husin came in to replace the skipper.
Ahead of the game, Accrington were on an unbeaten run of 15 matches (9 wins, 6 draws) as they rose from 21st to 11th in two months – leaving them just two points off the play-offs. But County weren’t reading from that script as they had the first chance of the game within 60 seconds. From a Mark Randall delivery, Stanley ‘keeper Marak Rodak spilt the ball inside the area but no-one could quite make a decent connection.
Ryan Bird, returning to the side after dropping to the bench against Plymouth had the next County opportunity. A clever corner routine from Tom Owen-Evans set Bird up on the edge of the area but his shot drifted narrowly wide of the post.
Billy Kee created the first real opening for the visitors on nine minutes but the Stanley top scorer couldn’t connect fully to a Matty Pearson cross with the ball rolling away for a goal-kick.
Accrington seemed somewhat nervy in the opening exchanges and had no answer to a resistant County defence. Mike Flynn had clearly been made aware of the immense speed that the Accrington front three possessed and seemingly set up the team to neutralise that. This meant Stanley were limited to long-range efforts in the opening quarter of an hour – with Joe Day having to be equal to one of those attempts. Jordan Clarke let fire from 25 yards but Day was equal to it to push it around the post.
That appeared to be all that either side could fashion in the opening 20 minutes, as both defences seemed resolute to any attack. County clearly edging proceedings at this point, looking the more likely to open the scoring - Mark Randall as impressive as ever in the midfield.
After referee Mark Heywood had missed a deliberate handball from Kee on 25 minutes, Stanley were almost in. Kee played a splitting pass into Shay McCartan but he couldn’t test Joe Day from inside the area.
And McCartan was involved again almost immediately, trying another long-range attempt. But this time, it was more menacing and it forced Joss Labadie to block it. But his attempted clearance spiralled back towards the County goal, Day making a smart reaction save to deny the opener.
Sean Rigg became the first player to receive a yellow-card on the half-hour after colliding with Noor Husin. That decision seemed harsh and the crowd knew that too as at first glance it looked like the free-kick should have gone County’s way.
Accrington were still being restricted to long-range attempts, Jordan Clark trying his luck again but the same result as the ball sailed over the crossbar.
And it seemed County were also only being afforded attempts from outside the area at this point, Sean Rigg forcing an easy save from Rodak.
Mark O’Brien became the next County player to receive a yellow-card on 37 minutes after stopping Shay McCartan in his tracks after the 22-year-old had drifted through the first two County challenges.
And that was the final moment of note for the first half, with the indication of three additional minutes doing nothing for either team as the game fizzled out for half-time.
It was a first half where you would have felt sorry for either side if they conceded, with County perhaps shading things in the first half. Neither side created a decent opportunity, with Joss Labadie’s failed clearance the only alarming moment for County. Alex Samuel looked the likeliest to open the scoring in the first-half - causing as much havoc in the area for the opposition as every County fan knows he does every game.
Surprisingly, neither manager made a substitution at half-time to try to change the game.
Accrington created the first chance of note in the second half in the 48th minute. Noor Husin tried a speculative effort which seemed a little weak but the ball took a deflection that seemed to wrong-foot Day – fortunately, the County keeper somehow managed to just about tip it round the post.
The game seemed to be crying out for a substitution and County looked to be making one as Aaron Williams looked ready to come on.
But before the substitution could be confirmed County struck a decisive opener on the hour. After Alex Samuel’s cross evaded Ryan Bird – the ball fell to Mark Randall in the area. After his shot was saved, the ball fell kindly to Bird who headed home his first goal since netting the winner at Morecambe last month. Williams was swiftly told to sit back down.
And County came so close to doubling their advantage through Alex Samuel. After being played in by Randall, Samuel tried to pick his spot in the far corner but Rodak did really well to tip it over for a corner which came to nothing.
For the next quarter of an hour, Accrington still couldn’t fashion any meaningful opportunities. It was a case of a resolute County defence preventing them any chances, showing the determination needed to stay up.
And Scotty Brown would swiftly be the first Accrington player to be yellow-carded as the visitors became frustrated knowing their play-off hopes would be all but over with defeat. John Coleman retaliated by sending on striker Terry Gornell in place of defender Mark Hughes to try to create anything for his side.
But Flynn would counter-act that decision by throwing on Jazzi Barnum Bobb for Mark Randall.
And the defender would be involved instantaneously, with a cross field pass to Sean Rigg that forced a corner. Nothing would come of it as County tried to run down the clock.
But as has been the case in the past two home games, the indication of time added on did nothing to ease the nerves at Rodney Parade as five were indicated.
But as had been the case throughout the game, the visitors really didn’t create anything of note as County held on for victory. Tom Owen-Evans was booked late on.
Any player on the pitch would have been deserving of the accolade of man-of-the-match but Joe Day made some world-class saves at vital times in the game.
The result also means Accrington become the first side that County have beat both home and away this season.
The crowd reacted in delight at the final whistle, the loudest of the season as County now had destiny in their own hands.
The Great Escape is well and truly on now!
County: Day, Pipe, Demetriou, O’Brien, Butler, Randall (Barnum-Bobb 85), Owen-Evans, Rigg, Labadie (C), Samuel (Gordon 90+1), Bird (Williams 72)
Subs not used: Bittner, Myrie-Williams, Nelson, Jones
Accrington: Rodak, Rodgers, Beckles, Hughes (Gornell 83), Donacien, Clark (Edwards 75), Pearson, Husin (Brown 70), McConville (C), McCartan, Kee
Subs not used: Boko, Shaw, Chapman
Referee: Mark Heywood
Attendance: 3,719 (74 away)
Next up on Parade: Notts County (6th May)