Newport County AFC have suffered their first defeat at home this year as Crewe Alexandra boosted their survival hopes with a 2-1 victory at Rodney Parade.
The away side opened the scoring with realistically their first sight at goal, that coming after 26 minutes.
Harry McKirdy did well to come out the better of an aerial challenge with Mickey Demetriou, before calmly dispatching the opportunity into the bottom corner from just inside the six-yard area.
That lead was then doubled right on the hour mark as Jordan Bowery finished off a quick counter-attack by passing the ball into the back of the net after Charlie Kirk had seen his attempt cannon back off the post and into the danger area.
County found a route back into proceedings with just nine minutes remaining, Mickey Demetriou rising highest to head into the middle of the goal from a Robbie Willmott corner kick and halve the deficit.
No equaliser could be found, however, meaning the Exiles slip one place in the League 2 table and down to 12th, while the gap on the play-offs has increased to ten points with eight games left to play.
Mike Flynn elected to name an unchanged side from the team that secured a 1-1 draw with high-flying Luton Town at Rodney Parade last weekend.
That saw the Exiles stick to their familiar 3-5-2 formation from the off in South Wales, as Aaron Collins and Josh Sheehan both kept their places after impressive displays last time out.
The only alteration from a County perspective came on the bench with Paul Hayes recovering from the calf injury that saw him miss the game with the Hatters. Marlon Jackson missed out on the matchday squad for Hayes to come back in.
Crewe Alexandra manager David Artell also kept the same team compared to their last match, although the Railwaymen last played on Tuesday night whilst securing a 3-1 victory over fellow strugglers Forest Green Rovers.
That meant talisman Chris Dagnall was still unable to return from the start at Rodney Parade following a knee problem, while Zoumana Bakayogo failed a late fitness test after sustaining a calf injury.
The unchanged side saw the Railwaymen keep to a usual 4-4-2 formation from the first whistle, with Jordan Bowery and Harry McKirdy the designated attacking options for the away side.
The combination of Aaron Collins and Josh Sheehan certainly caught Luton unawares early-on last weekend and this game would be no different.
In just the second minute, the duo again combined well, Collins in particular causing havoc to skip past three challenges on the left-hand touch line before playing the ball into Sheehan’s path, although the return pass didn’t quite get through as away captain George Ray made a vital intercepted slide tackle.
The Exiles were certainly the side with the ascendency at the start of the contest, some intricate play spanning 10+ passes on each occasion giving them a few clear sights at goal in the opening quarter-of-an-hour, although they were finding an inspired Ben Garratt in their way in the away goal.
Ben Tozer hit the roof of the net with a powerful header from a Robbie Willmott corner-kick as County continued to set the pace into proceedings, although they couldn’t quite create that one opportunity to give themselves the lead.
It took a little while for the away side to create a sustained amount of possession for themselves, although when they did manage to put a succession of passes together, it created the opening goal of the afternoon after 26 minutes.
Charlie Kirk launched a clever header into the area towards Harry McKirdy that Mickey Demetriou couldn’t quite get enough on to clear, with the striker collecting the ball before setting himself up and sending a composed finish into the bottom corner from the edge of the six-yard area.
That was just the Aston Villa loanee’s second goal of the season and you would have to say that the goal did have the desired effect for the away side after a slightly poor start.
Joe Day was forced into a smart save to deny Callum Ainley from getting a second goal for Crewe on the half-hour after being afforded too much time to burst into the County box; and should he have chosen to square the ball to unmarked teammate Kirk then they may have found the net.
After more positive work by the Cheshire side down the right-hand side, Paul Green was next to try his luck with a curling effort from the edge-of-the-area. Fortunately for County, it clipped the far post on its way out for a goal-kick.
The Exiles did create one further opportunity during the one-minute additional time, Mark O’Brien heading narrowly wide of the far post after being found by a Willmott free-kick, meaning County had to settle for returning to the dressing rooms with a one-goal deficit.
Both sides certainly had their positive spell during the first-half, County having the better of the early proceedings, although the away side showed that bit more clinicality in-front of goal to lead.
The two teams were more than happy to allow play to build-up and string together a succession of quick-passes in the middle of the park, with Sheehan doing particularly well for the Exiles in that department.
It was a somewhat quiet opening to the second-half, however, with no further chances being created in the opening 10 minutes of the half.
Flynn made a double substitution to try and alter things back in County’s favour, Frank Nouble and Paul Hayes replacing Sheehan and Amond as the Exiles switched to more of a 4-3-3 system.
But it was the substitution for Crewe that had the desired effect as they doubled their advantage right on the hour-mark.
James Jones played a splitting pass into the path of Kirk out-wide who cut inside superbly before hitting the post, the ball rebounding into the danger area where Bowery arrived to pass home into the net despite the best attempts of Demetriou on the goal line.
County almost found an instant route back into the contest through Hayes, although Perry Ng did remarkably well to leap almost as high as the crossbar and avert the danger on the goal line.
The Exiles did find a route back into the game with nine minutes to go, this time Ng unable to clear a Demetriou header from 12 yards following another superb delivery from Willmott.
The indication of six additional minutes gave County the license to try and force a late equaliser and Tozer again hit the roof of the net right at the start of the added extras.
But no equaliser could be found as Crewe held on for a victory that should confirm their survival in League 2 for another season, condemning County to their first defeat at Rodney Parade in 2018 from all competitions.
County: Day, Butler, Demetriou, White, O’Brien (C), Willmott, Dolan, Sheehan (Nouble 57’), Tozer, Amond (Hayes 57’), Collins (McCoulsky 69’)
Subs not used: Bittner, Pipe, Bennett, Reid
Crewe Alexandra: Garratt, Ng, Ray (C), Nolan, Kirk (Raynes 85’), Ainley, Pickering, Green, Lowery (Jones 45’), McKirdy (Dagnall 78’), Bowery
Subs not used: Richards, Wintle, Reilly, Barlaser
Referee: Darren Handley
Attendance: 4,638 (281 away)
Next up for County: Coventry City (30th March 2018) HOME