Lincoln City will spend Christmas Day atop of the League Two table after Newport County AFC fell to a 3-2 defeat away at Sincil Bank.
John Akinde and Harry Anderson gave the Imps a blistering start to proceedings when both netting inside seven minutes, but Padraig Amond halved the deficit in first-half stoppage time.
Tom Pett’s deflected effort midway through the second-half restored the two-goal advantage for the home side, but Amond again got County back into the contest with a sumptuous curled effort.
They couldn’t find the desired late equaliser, however, meaning they will spend Christmas Day in 8th position – and outside the play-offs for the first time since August 21st.
After last weekend’s fixture with in-form MK Dons was postponed due to the adverse weather conditions in South Wales, Mike Flynn elected to make two changes to the side that last played 11 days ago against Wrexham AFC.
Having sustained a cheekbone injury in that comprehensive victory over the National League side in the Emirates FA Cup, Mickey Demetriou could only make the bench and missed starting his 76th consecutive league fixture.
Mark O’Brien was able to overcome his own injury problems to come back into a 4-3-3 formation at Sincil Bank, whilst Robbie Willmott replaced Tyreeq Bakinson.
Lincoln City manager Danny Cowley kept faith in his starting side that capitalised on MK Dons not playing last weekend to move back to the top of the League Two table with a comfortable 3-1 victory over Morecambe.
That saw the Imps side boast experienced midfielders Michael Bostwick and Lee Frecklington in a 4-3-3 formation, whilst John Akinde – who normally has an impact in matches against County – also started.
On this occasion, it took Akinde less than three minutes to make his presence known as the table toppers came out of the traps with the greatest intent at Sincil Bank.
An out-swinging corner looked a little too heavy, but Tom Pett chased it down and just about kept the ball in play. His delivery caused havoc in the penalty, Akinde and Fraser Franks both rose to meet it, but the bounce fell kindly to the Imps striker and he found the target via the aid of a deflection.
Antoine Semenyo stung the palms of home goalkeeper Grant Smith from distance as County looked for an instant response, but they even further behind after the Imps carved them apart immediately with a breath-taking counter-attack.
Frecklington, Bostwick and Jason Shackell were instrumental in getting the ball from defence to attack in lightening quick time, Harry Anderson eventually got hold of it and he burst into the penalty area and fired across Joe Day to build a healthy advantage.
Credit to County for stemming the flow of possession for the home side, Jamille Matt saw a header saved quite comfortably and Semenyo was causing numerous problems with his energy and dynamism out-wide.
But the Imps continued to look deadly on the counter-attack and it took a perfectly timed challenge from David Pipe to deny Harry Toffolo a shot at goal following a menacing run from the midfielder.
On 25 minutes, clever play again from Semenyo – County’s most useful asset throughout – saw Robbie Willmott given the opportunity to shoot from 25 yards, but Smith did well to tip the half-volley over the top of his crossbar.
Chances were becoming few and far between in Lincolnshire, but Smith was looking an unbreachable force between the sticks when County did muster an opportunity and he turned a Matty Dolan speculative free-kick around his left post.
However, there’s not been many occasions this season where the Exiles have failed to score – only twice in League Two – so there was always going to be chances and when Smith made a rare error, County capitalised in the first of the three minutes additional time.
Pinball in the area from a Willmott corner was finally settled by Fraser Franks launching a header towards goal, Smith got down well but surprisingly couldn’t hold it and Amond smashed into the roof of the net from close range.
Neither side could particularly gather any ascendency to start proceedings after the restart, Amond and Frecklington trading efforts that never really looked like testing either goalkeeper.
More encouraging news for Joss Labadie on his continuing recovery from nine-months out with an anterior cruciate ligament injury and he was given 35 minutes from the bench, replacing Dolan.
The midfielder almost wrote his own additional headlines when forcing Smith to tip a looping header over his crossbar, whilst Semenyo wasn’t too far away with his own header that only narrowly evaded the near post.
Just as County looked to be becoming the greatest force in the contest when trying to force a comeback, they were dealt a sucker punch as Tom Pett struck with 23 minutes remaining from another speedy breakaway.
Again the Imps profited from a deflection as Pett’s 25-yard strike left Day wrong footed, but credit has to go to Akinde, Frecklington and the goalkeeper for setting the move in motion after County had put together a nice attack in the initial instance.
But all wasn’t lost for the Exiles against the League Two pace setters and they again fought back to give themselves a chance in the contest as Amond got his second with 14 minutes remaining.
There was complete confusion between Smith and Jason Shackell around the edge of the penalty area, Matt capitalised on the indecision to steal the ball, he teed up the Irishman who still had a lot to do but curled home from 14 yards.
You couldn’t fault County’s attempts to find a late leveller, but Lincoln City held on well through the five minutes additional time to condemn the Exiles to defeat in their last away match of 2018.
Newport County AFC (4-3-3): Day, Pipe (C) (Sheehan 88’), O’Brien, Franks, Butler, Dolan (Labadie 55’), Bennett, Willmott (Harris 71’), Semenyo, Matt, Amond
Subs not used: Townsend, Bakinson, Pring, Demetriou
Lincoln City (4-3-3): Smith, Eardley, Bostwick, Shackell, Toffolo, Pett, Frecklington (C), O’Connor (Wharton 81’), Anderson, Akinde (Rhead 74’), McCartan (Andrade 61’)
Subs not used: Slocombe, Gordon, Wilson, Mensah
Referee: Thomas Bramall
Attendance: 8,632 (185 AWAY)
Next up for County: Forest Green Rovers (26th December 2018) HOME