Goals from Padraig Amond and Mickey Demetriou ensured Newport County AFC won 2-1 for the fourth successive game in all competitions with a nerve-wracking victory over Crawley Town.
Amond was the man to give County what was a deserved lead with a powerful header from ten yards on 40 minutes, as the Exiles got their just rewards for a lively start that saw them hit the goalframe twice early-on.
That lead became two within four minutes as Demetriou scored yet again against Crawley after getting both in the reverse fixture, this one a calm penalty into the bottom left corner that just about evaded away goalkeeper Glenn Morris.
But Crawley were insistent on making a game of it despite their somewhat slow start, as Harry Kewell’s half-time substitutions paid dividends for the away side.
Substitute Thomas Verheydt lept well in an aerial duel with Joe Day and came out the better, before setting up his captain Jimmy Smith to tap home via a deflection off Mickey Demetriou.
Day then made a couple of smart saves to deny the visitors as they pushed valiantly for an equaliser late on, marking his 150th league appearance for the club by helping them ascend into the play-off positions for the first time since 21st October and up to 5th ahead of tomorrow’s fixtures.
Mike Flynn elected to make two changes to the side that secured 2-1 victories in the last three matches against Exeter City, Leeds United and Grimsby Town.
That saw captain Joss Labadie and Matty Dolan both miss out completely from the matchday squad with the hamstring injuries sustained last week at Blundell Park, as Josh Sheehan came in for his first league start since re-joining the club on a permanent deal earlier this month.
Ben Tozer also returned to the starting side at Rodney Parade, as the Exiles lined up in a 4-3-3 formation from the off.
Crawley Town manager Harry Kewell also made the two changes to his side that had picked up 12 points from their last 18 available before the game.
Ex-Exile Mark Randall failed to make the trip back to South Wales, while fellow midfielder Dannie Bulman was also rested.
The duo were replaced by Josh Lelan and Moussa Sanoh in a 3-4-3 formation from the Red Devils, as the away side kept to their usual versatile line-up from the first whistle.
And the Exiles almost broke the deadlock within the opening two minutes.
Stand in captain for the day David Pipe was found in space on the right-hand side, with Frank Nouble seeing his header from the cross blocked on the goal line by Lewis Young, although the goal wouldn’t have counted anyway as the referee had blown his whistle for a prior infringement in the build-up.
It was certainly a lively start by the Exiles as they sensed that a win would lift the side to 5th in the table ahead of tomorrow’s fixtures and came mighty close again in the 13th minute.
Ben White’s stunning 60-yard cross-field pass set the move in motion, Padraig Amond eventually getting the shot away, only to see it ricochet off the crossbar, as Crawley defender Mark Connolly raced back to head clear ahead of the onrushing Nouble.
All the pressure was coming the way of County, although Crawley Town were creating half chances, and Sheehan was next to be denied by a vital interception.
Away goalkeeper Glenn Morris looked he may finally be breached by County, only to have centre-half Joe McNerney make a sliding block to spare his blushes.
Tozer was next to be denied ten minutes later as the ascendency was all with the Exiles at this point, firing narrowly wide of the post after Scot Bennett had somewhat miscued the original attempt.
The crossbar was rattled again by the Exiles on 37 minutes, this time Robbie Willmott being denied by the goalframe after connecting cleverly to a Tozer long throw on the edge of the six-yard area.
You could sense a goal was coming one way or another from County and they duly delivered that opener on 40 minutes.
A quick breakaway looked like it was going to break down after Crawley got reinforcements back to block the danger, although White still found space to produce a superb cross to give Amond the simplest of tasks to head home the opening goal of the night from 10 yards.
And no sooner had Crawley reacted to going a down goal at Rodney Parade, the Exiles made it two just four minutes later.
It took until the 19th January, but County finally had the chance of a penalty kick. Demetriou coolly dispatched the spot kick into the bottom left corner to double the Exiles advantage after a dominant display, scoring his fourth in three games against the Red Devils in the process.
The indication of just the one additional minute couldn’t inspire County to a third before half-time, however, as they had to settle for a two-goal lead at the half-way stage of the game.
And the Exiles were good value for that advantage too.
The tempo was being set well by County on home soil, dominating the possession and amount of chances created with ease, and could probably feel aggrieved for not having a healthier advantage at the break.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic in South Wales, however, Joe Day having to produce a few smart reaction saves, although he would have been pleased with the output from his defensive outfit.
But that deserved advantage from an Exiles perspective was swiftly halved within moments of the second-half commencing.
Day was unlucky to lose out in an aerial duel to substitute Thomas Verheydt as a long ball was fired into the County area. That allowed the ball to fall to away captain Jimmy Smith, who fired home via a deflection from Demetriou and the best attempts from Dan Butler on the goal-line about 15 yards out.
That goal seemed to flatten the game somewhat as it turned into a tactical midfield battle, with neither side creating a further opportunity until the 72nd minute.
And the Exiles were mightily relieved to see the linesman’s flag being raised when another chance was eventually created. Connolly had the ball in the back of the net from a Roberts delivery, but was flagged offside after moving ahead of the County defence before the ball was played in.
Day produced a smart save to deny substitute Arjan Tajbakhsh with 13 minutes remaining as the away side were beginning to grasp a foothold on proceedings, Josh Lelan also coming close before the 80th minute.
The indication of four minutes of added time indicated to Kewell and his men that they now had the license to throw everything at the Exiles in search of taking a point back with them to West Sussex.
But County held on resolutely to end Crawley’s 100% start to 2018 while maintaining their own, as they rose into the top-seven for the first time in over two and a half months with the composed victory.
County: Day, Pipe (C), Demetriou, Butler, White, Bennett, Butler, Tozer, Sheehan (Reid 70’), Willmott, Amond (McCoulsky 77’), Nouble (Hayes 85’)
Subs not used: Bittner, O’Brien, Jahraldo, Collins
Crawley: Morris, Connolly, McNerney (Tajbakhsh 45’), Lelan, Evina, Yorwerth, Smith, Young (Camara 83’), Boldewijn, Roberts, Sanoh (Verheydt 45’)
Subs not used: Mersin, Doherty, Djalo, Clifford
Referee: Simon Hooper
Attendance: 5,741 (89 AWAY)
Next up for County: Morecambe (23rd January 2018)