Padraig Amond’s first-half header ensured Newport County AFC took a share of the spoils from their long trip to Brunton Park as they ended the 2017/18 campaign with a 1-1 draw at Carlisle United.
In a game full of chances throughout from either side as they both looked to sign off the season in style, it was Carlisle to open the scoring after 13 minutes of the contest.
As was the case in the six-goal thriller at Rodney Parade earlier in the season, Danny Grainger was the architect of the goal for the Cumbrians, this time Mark Ellis rising highest from a corner-kick to bullet a header back across goal and into the net from all of eight yards.
The game at Brunton Park was the last of Keith Curle’s reign in charge of the Cumbrians after the recent announcement that he would leave the club at the end of the season – but County ensured he wouldn’t sign off with a victory when finding an equaliser with six minutes of the half remaining.
It was just the sort of goal that a side would want to score if it were to be their last across the campaign, Robbie Willmott collecting a long pass out-wide before working some space and delivering a superb cross for Padraig Amond to power home his 15th of the campaign.
In the second-half, you would have to say that the Cumbrians came closest to finding a winner between the two sides - but were left frustrated first by the post to deny Jamie Devitt and then Joe Day following a curling attempt from Mike Jones.
That point on the final day of the season sees County finish the campaign in 11th position, their first top half finish since 2014/15, having accumulated 64 points across the entirety of the campaign.
Mike Flynn elected to make two changes to the starting side that suffered a defeat to bottom of the table Chesterfield just four days ago.
That saw Mark O’Brien return into the starting line-up after being absent in the last few games through a toe injury, taking the place of Ben White in the County defence who missed out entirely through an unspecified injury.
The other change saw Ben Tozer return to the starting line-up ahead of the final match of the season after recovering from the illness that kept him out last time out, taking the place of Aaron Collins from the first whistle.
Tozer’s arrival into the side for the attacker wasn’t exactly a like-for-like alteration, therefore the Exiles switched from their familiar formation into more of a 4-4-2 setup at Brunton Park.
That sickness bug which had affected Tozer in the week clearly swept further into the squad ahead of the match with only five substitutions being named by Flynn, one of which was academy graduate Momodou Touray – who recently signed his first professional contract with the club.
After being voted the Patron's Cup for Newport County AFC Player of the Year winner amongst other awards at last season’s presentation night, Dan Butler was named captain of the side for the first time on what was his 100th appearance for the club.
Carlisle United manager Keith Curle chose to make just the one change ahead of his final game as manager of the Cumbrians.
The 54-year old recently announced that he would leave the Brunton Park outfit at the end of the campaign to pursue other avenues within football, bringing Richie Bennett into the midfield as Tom Parkes dropped to the bench.
Curle also set his side up in a 4-4-2 formation for the game, with Jamie Devitt and Ashley Nadesan – who scored in last week’s win at Port Vale – leading the line up-front.
The home side were certainly intent on putting on a show for their manager before his departure, with the game against County Curle’s 207th and last match in charge of the Cumbrians having joined the club in September 2014.
Carlisle were making all the early running in the contest even if not specifically getting any chances of real note, Joe Day having a more than comfortable save to make to deny Ashley Nadesan’s header from a Jamal Campbell-Ryce delivery.
The warning signs were there that the home side were inching closer and closer to an opener in the contest – and they finally found the net exactly on the quarter-of-an-hour.
Danny Grainger was again the architect of the goal for Carlisle with another pinpoint set-piece into the area – how the Cumbrians scored all of their goals in the 3-3 draw at Rodney Parade in December – this time Mark Ellis rising highest to power a header home from eight yards following a corner-kick.
As has often been the case during the season, the goal seemed to spark County into life and they were mere inches away from getting an equaliser within 100 seconds of the opener.
O’Brien put pressure on home goalkeeper Jack Bonham following a chipped delivery towards goal from Nouble, although Bonham’s miscued punch clipped the outside of his near post on its way out for a corner.
From there until the half-hour mark, both sides had their positive moments in possession even though all of the goal scoring opportunities were still falling the way of the home side, the best of which saw Gary Liddle just head over the crossbar from another Grainger delivery.
But you could sense that the Exiles were growing in confidence as they looked to end the season in perfect fashion themselves, with the side duly finding their equaliser after 39 minutes of the contest.
It was certainly a goal worthy of coming in the final game of the season and signing off the season in style, as Robbie Willmott and Padraig Amond linked up superbly to get the Irishman his 15th goal of the campaign.
Willmott collected a long-pass out-wide on the right-hand side before cutting inside and working the ball through two defenders, crossing from the edge-of-the-area into Amond to head back across goal and into the area from just outside the six-yard area.
However, they always say that a side are at their most vulnerable after they’ve scored – and Carlisle almost seized on that saying when carving through the side once more shortly after.
Jamie Devitt nipped the ball off Tyler Reid just outside the area before waltzing his way into the area, although Day got down well to make a low save to his left and keep the scores level.
That was in-fact the final chance of the first-half as not even the indication of one-minute additional time could inspire another moment of note from either side, meaning the sides went back to the dressing rooms level on the final game of the season.
It was probably the fair result after 45 minutes of football in which both sides had their fair amount of possession within.
Amond’s 15th goal of the campaign finished what was the best chance created by County in that time, although the Exiles were unlucky on quite a few more occasions not to make anything of several other pinpoint deliveries into the danger area from Willmott.
Campbell-Ryce and Devitt were the standout players from a Carlisle perspective during the first-half, but the side could never quite find that splitting pass to get in-behind the County back-line, such was the stubborn line that the defence were holding.
But it doesn’t matter how good your defence is, sometimes moments of pure quality are just too difficult to prevent – so Carlisle would have been mightily frustrated when Devitt saw an effort cannon back off the post from long range just three minutes after the restart.
Again, there was a sense of urgency that Carlisle wanted to end Curle’s spell in charge of the club in style, Day having to repel a curling attempt from Mike Jones as the Cumbrians continued their positive start to the second-half on 54 minutes.
And the home side certainly won’t come any closer to finding the net without scoring a goal than what happened on the hour mark.
Some of the crosses into the area from players on either side were constantly causing a problem to the opposition, Clint Hill this time looping a header over Day and onto the crossbar then the goal line, although the ball hadn’t officially crossed the line as County survived.
With eleven minutes of the contest remaining, Flynn decided to bring Momodou Touray into proceedings whilst replacing Sheehan – with the attacker making his first-team debut in the process.
Another County substitute in Aaron Collins almost won the game right at the death for the Exiles, seeing his effort cleared off the line by Liddle, meaning County ended the campaign in the way they started it – by securing a point on the road in League 2.
County: Day, Butler (C), O’Brien (Collins 58’), Demetriou, Reid, Sheehan (Touray 79’), Tozer, Dolan, Willmott, Nouble, Amond (Pipe 90’)
Subs not used: Bittner, Jackson
Carlisle United: Bonham, Grainger (C) (Parkes 45’), Hill (Lambe 74’), Ellis, Liddle, Bennett, Campbell-Ryce (O’Sullivan 64’), Joyce, Jones, Nadesan, Devitt
Subs not used: Miller, Brown, Stockton, Twardek
Referee: Mark Heywood
Attendance: 5,311 (270 AWAY)
Next up for County: The 2018/19 campaign #TheJourneyContinues