REPORT | Newport County AFC vs Luton Town FC
Newport County AFC have closed the gap on safety to 6 points after a 1-1 draw with Luton Town.
Danny Hylton converted an early penalty in the opening five minutes; with Sean Rigg equalising in the 28th minute. The result means County close the gap slightly in their game in hand as they head to take on Portsmouth at the weekend.
For County, Michael Flynn decided to make one change to the side that lost to Blackpool at Rodney Parade on the weekend. Joss Labadie passed his late fitness test and started, with Sid Nelson coming in for Tom Owen-Evans. Nathan Jones decided to make 5 changes to the Hatters side that drew with Exeter on the weekend; their 4th draw from their last 6 league matches. Of those changes, Isaac Vassell and Ollie Palmer were drafted in to aid hitman Danny Hylton; who was searching for his 19th league goal of the season.
Sean Rigg was the first player to have a chance of note but his shot from 25 yards sailed over the bar of opposing ‘keeper Matt Macey. Luton were then awarded a penalty in the 4th minute when after a clever quick throw-in, Danny Hylton was brought down by Sid Nelson. That happened to be the third penalty awarded to the Hatters against County this season by referee Charles Breakspear after giving them two in the 2-1 victory for Luton at Kenilworth Road in August. However, this time round no controversy over the decision – clear penalty.
Hylton dispatched the penalty to claim his 19th league goal and 24th of the season.
County tried to galvanise themselves and nearly levelled in the 9th minute; but Darren Jones’s header just eclipsed the bar from Sean Rigg’s free-kick. And that was just about all the excitement for the crowd until the 20th minute when County came inches away from an equaliser. After a scuffed clearance by Johnny Mullins and subsequent poor punch by Macey, the ball fell to Alex Samuel – but his shot on the turn couldn’t quite find the bottom corner.
And then came the decisive moment of the first halfe. After Sid Nelson was brought down 35 yards out, Sean Rigg decided to try his luck. And try his luck indeed as County equalised. Whether a deflection or the keeper being wrongfooted, County won’t care as they levelled with the recent draw specialists of League 2.
After the goal, things seemed to fizzle out between the two sides with both solid at the back, with an interesting midfield battle taking place. And that’s how things stayed until the 41st minute when Joe Day saved smartly from a fierce Ollie Palmer drive. Not even two additional minutes could inspire another chance for either side. County just edging the game with the main story being the solid display from both defences.
Nathan Jones made a change at half-time to try to ignite a spark in his attack with James Justin replacing Danny Hylton.
The game’s first yellow-card came in the 49th minute when Sean Rigg fouled Ollie Palmer.
And the story of the first-half seemed to transpire into the second with no early chances; forcing Flynn to try something different as Tom Owen-Evans came on in place of Sid Nelson.
Then a potential game-changing moment for the visitors on the hour – not taken. A cross from substitute James Justin found Ollie Palmer in the 6 yard-box but he couldn’t convert and County survived.
And they were almost made to pay for the miss on 69 minutes. After being found in space through the middle, Owen-Evans had time to pick his spot; but somehow Macey clawed it round the post.
Joss Labadie was next to go into the book after Breakspear adjudged he had dived in the Luton box. The crowd certainly made their feelings known about that decision.
Mark O’Brien quickly followed – but this time it was red. Adjudged to have prevented a goal-scoring opportunity in the 83rd minute with Isaac Vassell racing clear, he was sent for an early bath.
And the visitors almost made their numerical advantage count just two minutes later but Scott Cuthbert headed over the bar.
Flynn decided to shake things up a bit after the dismissal with Marlon Jackson replacing Ryan Bird. And Jackson was involved straight away. It was his control that set up Alex Samuel, who curled just wide.
Then it was Jackson’s turn to try his luck but his effort from a similar position also went wide. Samuel again came close for the third of a barrage of County attacks but his effort was held well by Macey.
David Pipe then became the next player to receive a yellow card as County desperately searched for a winner.
Tom Owen Evans became the 5th player to be booked for a County as he tried to prevent a Luton counter.
Deep into injury time, Luton almost stole all the points. And if it wasn’t for Joe Day they probably would have; making a brilliant close range stop to deny Ollie Palmer.
And that brought proceedings to a close. Not the result County would have wanted form their game in hand but another positive performance that on another day may have been all 3.
The side will travel to Portsmouth with the belief that survival is still on – 6 points adrift with 8 to play.