Lee Martin’s decisive first-half strike gave Exeter City a joyous Boxing Day as the Grecians stayed second in the League Two table with a 1-0 victory over Newport County AFC.
Martin calmly tucked home a neat finish into the bottom corner after Scot Bennett initially blocked a shot from Exeter captain Jake Taylor on 14 minutes.
Michael Flynn elected to make two changes to the side which suffered a disappointing defeat at Morecambe on Saturday and with those alterations came a formation switch as the Exiles lined up in a 4-1-2-1-2 system.
One of them was enforced as Mark O’Brien was still feeling the effects of a nasty looking head injury in Lancashire, Ryan Inniss coming into the defence, while Scot Bennett was restored to the midfield in place of Matty Dolan.
Exeter City manager Matt Taylor also made two changes after the Grecians picked up some injuries last time out and they lined up in a similar formation but packed the midfield with a 3-4-1-2 system.
That solid midfield base allowed them to dictate the play in a first half hampered by simply awful conditions in Devon which inhibited either side from playing an expansive style of football.
The only goal of the game came with the first attack as Martin – who scored in the reverse fixture at Rodney Parade back in September – grabbed his sixth of the season.
Positive play down the right set dangerman Randell Williams off towards the by-line, he cutback for Taylor to see a shot blocked by Bennett, before Martin calmly dispatched the rebound into the bottom corner.
Martin’s attacking partner Ryan Bowman was certainly a handful throughout the game, he occupied the defence and played between the lines, in order to try and help his wingbacks come forward.
The 28-year old saw a shot deflected narrowly wide off the boot of Ryan Inniss when Nick Townsend was scrambling, while also sending a couple of testing deliveries into the area when he ventured away from his central position.
County battled their way back into proceedings as they wrestled the ascendency back around the half hour mark, but they never really tested Jonny Maxted despite a couple of snapshots.
Josh Sheehan wasn’t too far away when he tried to prod a cutback into the bottom corner, he also scuffed one wide shortly after, before Taylor Maloney tested Maxted’s ability to hold a shot amid the conditions but the goalkeeper passed the test comfortably.
In first half stoppage time, Townsend was called into action once again, making a fingertip save to deny Martin’s shot on the turn when it looked like it may have otherwise creeped under the crossbar.
At half time, Flynn tried to turn the tide back in County’s favour by making a double substitution with the introduction of George Nurse and Tristan Abrahams for Padraig Amond and Maloney.
Exeter again started the half brighter but there was a distinct lack of opportunities for either side, Townsend made a save from Pierce Sweeney on 47 minutes but that was basically it for a large part of the half.
The longer the game progressed, the more County started to throw everything at Exeter – Lewis Collins was thrown on in the third substitution and he caused problems with his urgency to attack the full back and drive into the penalty area.
The spirited attitude of Collins was commendable, he couldn’t quite get that decisive pass into the penalty area – Nurse did see a shot saved – but it wasn’t to be as Exeter secured all three points.
Exeter City (3-4-1-2): Jonny Maxted, Pierce Sweeney, Aaron Martin, Tom Parkes, Randell Williams, Jake Taylor (C), Jack Sparkes (Archie Collins 86’), Nicky Law, Lee Martin (Ben Seymour 90’), Ryan Bowman
Subs not used: Ward, Tillson, Ajose, Jay, Richardson
Newport County AFC (4-1-2-1-2): Nick Townsend, Mickey Demetriou, Scot Bennett (C), Ryan Inniss, Danny McNamara (Lewis Collins 79’), Josh Sheehan, Taylor Maloney (George Nurse 45’), Joss Labadie (C), Padraig Amond (Tristan Abrahams 45’), Jamille Matt
Subs not used: King, Dolan, Poleon, Jefferies
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Attendance: 5,968 (521 AWAY)
Next up for County: Leyton Orient (December 29th) HOME