Goals in either half from Mickey Demetriou and Frank Nouble were enough for Newport County AFC to sign off the 2017/18 home campaign with a win following a 2-1 victory against Cambridge United.
County opened the scoring on 26 minutes and it yielded Demetriou’s third goal in the last eight matches.
It came from another lethal long throw-in from Ben Tozer, the delivery inch perfect for Mark O’Brien to rise highest and tee up his centre-back partner to break the offside trap and stab home from all of three yards.
The Exiles continued their domination on proceedings well into the second-half as-well, putting together a number of creative moments, and it was from another superb build-up that the lead was extended on the hour mark.
County substitute Aaron Collins had the deserved effect following his introduction when skipping past two challenges on the right-hand side, crossing a sublime delivery into the area for Nouble to emphatically volley home from an acute angle.
The away side were still intent on making the match interesting, however, and they halved the deficit with nine minutes remaining.
George Maris was the man to get it, just rewards for a clinical display from the midfielder, and that was also a superb goal after smashing the ball into the bottom corner from 25 yards having been set-up by Billy Waters.
The Exiles were able to hang on despite late pressure from Cambridge and secure all three points, securing a third victory of the season against the U’s in the process following successes in the reverse fixture and the Emirates FA Cup.
It sees County leapfrog the away side and Colchester United up into 11th place in the League 2 table, while the Exiles could rise as high as 9th with a win in their game in hand against Chesterfield on Tuesday night.
The result also means the Exiles finish the season with 37 points out of a possible 69 from the home fixtures at Rodney Parade, whilst there has also been the memorable victory over Leeds United in the Emirates FA Cup alongside a draw with Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the same competition.
Mike Flynn elected to name the same starting team that secured a stunning victory over league leaders Accrington Stanley at Rodney Parade in midweek.
That saw the Exiles again field a 3-5-2 formation from the first whistle as they looked to finish the season at Rodney Parade in style, with Padraig Amond and Frank Nouble – who both scored on Tuesday – leading the line up-front.
Cambridge United caretaker manager Joe Dunne chose to make two changes to his side that were held to a draw at struggling Morecambe on Tuesday night.
Despite the U’s seemingly having an injury crisis within the club at the moment, neither of those alterations were actually enforced through injury concerns.
That saw midfielders David Amoo and Harrison Dunk drop to the bench, whilst the away side switched their formation to a 4-3-3 line-up at Rodney Parade following the inclusion of Paul Lewis and striker Billy Waters.
And it was one of those players who came back into the Cambridge starting side that helped to create the opening chance.
The ex-Cheltenham man Waters did well to skip past the challenge of Robbie Willmott before winning his side a foul roughly 30 yards out. George Maris stood up to take it, although despite some good speed on the curling effort, couldn’t get the better of Joe Day in the County goal.
That chance seemed to liven the Exiles up, who were playing some great stuff from that point on – several passes being put together intricately on the left-hand side on several occasions – and they came within an inch of taking the lead on six minutes.
Some more superb work out-wide from Frank Nouble and Josh Sheehan gave the latter a great chance to put a delivery into the area, which Ben Tozer connected to on the edge-of-the-area with a half volley, only for Dimi Mitov to make a terrific one-handed save to tip it around the post.
After taking a clean sheet from his Football League debut at Morecambe on Tuesday night, it was certainly another feather in the cap for the 21-year old Bulgarian, and he was again called into action shortly after when collecting a looping header from Amond.
The Exiles continued to control proceedings at Rodney Parade as they looked to sign off the home season in style, more intricate passing being put together all over the pitch, and there was nothing Mitov could do on 26 minutes to stop himself conceding the first goal of his EFL career.
It came from another one of those lethal Tozer long-throws into the area, as Mark O’Brien rose highest before stabbing an attempt towards goal, where Demetriou had broken the offside trap to pass home from all of three yards.
Despite the continuation of that free-flowing approach from the Exiles following the opening goal, no further clear-cut chances could be created by either side during the two minutes of additional time as the Exiles took a slender lead back with them to the dressing rooms.
You would have to say that based on that first-half performance, County were well worth their lead at half-time. Some of the passing from the side on occasion was simply sublime, putting together a host of moves spanning at-least 20+ passes from the first minute – and all that possession wasn’t in vain as the side also created some decent chances.
Josh Sheehan again looked lively in the centre of midfield, perhaps unlucky on occasion to not quite get the right pace on that final pass, whilst Padraig Amond was as ever running his socks off up-front.
Cambridge did have their spells of possession when trying to halt the progression of County and spark some chances of their own, Uche Ikpeazu in particular looking a menacing threat out-wide throughout the first-half, although never really tested Day too much following several shots from Maris outside the area.
And just like in the first-half, the Exiles continued their ascendency straight from the restart, Sheehan this time denied by Mitov following a curling effort from the edge-of-the-area, after County had yet again put together a succession of passes.
Virtually all of the chances created by the Exiles were coming from the left-hand side; so it was almost written in the stars that the second goal should be created following clever work on the right-hand side.
It came on the hour mark and it was Nouble to get it – scoring in successive matches for the first time since joining the Exiles – and it was a truly wonderful finish.
County substitute Aaron Collins had the desired impact that Flynn was looking for when sending the attacker on just four minutes previously, skipping past two challenges with intent, before crossing for Nouble to exquisitely volley home from an acute angle and into the far corner.
The second goal clearly afforded the Exiles even more license to play with confidence, Collins and Nouble both spearheading the attacks when they were being created, while County were also solid in defence when Cambridge did venture forward.
Tozer was required to block one off the goal line from George Taft before the game entered its final 15 minutes – and that was clearly just a warning sign to the Exiles as the visitors got one back with nine minutes remaining.
You would have to say that it was certainly a well worked goal from the away side, a move that started out on the left-hand side before Waters set up Maris to strike from 25 yards, the midfielder taking it first time and smashing it into the bottom corner.
But the Exiles were able to hold on resolutely and secure all three points, securing a unique treble against Cambridge in the process.
County: Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C) (Pipe 45’), White, Willmott, Dolan (Collins 56’), Tozer, Sheehan, Nouble (Hayes 77’), Amond
Subs not used: Bittner, Jackson, Reid, Jahraldo
Cambridge United: Mitov, Carroll (Amoo 80’), Taft, Taylor, Halliday, Lewis (Dunk 61’), Maris, Deegan (C), Waters, Ikpeazu (Corr 45’), Brown
Subs not used: Iron, Mingoia, Davies, Darling
Referee: Graham Salisbury
Attendance: 3,412 (170 AWAY)
Next up for County: Chesterfield (1st May 2018) AWAY