Write down the date. 5th February 2019. Newport County AFC have reached the Fifth Round of the Emirates FA Cup for just the second time in their history with a simply sublime team performance in a 2-0 victory against Championship outfit Middlesbrough.
Exactly 70 years to the day since County ousted Huddersfield to reach the last 16 of the competition, a truly magnificent team performance saw them through again with a hearted and spirited display.
Literally, insert whatever positive superlative you want and that would aptly sum up just how good County were.
Robbie Willmott and Padraig Amond will take the plaudits and the headlines for their stunning second-half goals but this was a monumental achievement from the 11 starters and two substitutes – they were simply unreal.
Watch out Pep Guardiola, Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and co. – you’re all coming next Saturday to Rodney Parade!
There were 56 places in the English pyramid separating the teams before kick-off but you wouldn’t have guessed that one team was within the Championship play-offs and the other in the bottom half of the League Two table.
County were more than happy to take the game to their opposition and how both sides went into half-time with the score goalless is anyone’s guess.
Dimi Konstantopoulos was having an absolute stormer during the opening 45 minutes in the Middlesbrough goal and repelled everything County – and mainly Padraig Amond – threw at him.
Jonny Howson wasn’t too far away from finding the target from 30 yards in the first sighting of goal from either side, but from there, County were more than comfortable and provided the greatest attacking intent.
Two minutes later, Scot Bennett, Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond all had attempts amidst a goalmouth scramble, but Konstantopoulos held the Irishman’s final chance from three yards right on the goal line.
Still the chances fell Amond’s way and Konstantopoulos had to leap across his goal to keep out a looping header across the goal which initially looked set for a Matt tap-in at the far post.
In response, Middlesbrough talisman Jordan Hugill struck the base of the post after some intricate play split County apart, but that was their last chance of note before half-time as County were happy to soak up any pressure.
Konstantopoulos had to dive at the feet of Amond on 18 minutes to again inhibit the Irishman, getting down to stop the attempted lob after another delightful Robbie Willmott cross and subsequent flick-on from Bennett.
For all the attacking intent, the ball just wouldn’t fall in the right areas for the Exiles and Matt then Joss Labadie were literally an inch from meeting the ball and getting on the end of more super Willmott crosses.
You couldn’t believe how Amond didn’t have a first-half goal – it wasn’t for the lack of trying – and Konstantopoulos again kept out another bullet header from near enough the penalty spot when it looked destined for the bottom corner.
Matt headed on to the roof of the net in first-half stoppage time as County just continued to dominate everything in the air and looked a threat whenever Willmott put his textbook crosses into the penalty area.
The conditions were truly awful at Rodney Parade – swirling wind and rain howling and gushing around the stadium, but credit to the ground staff because in-spite of the battering the pitch was taking, it held up well and allowed both sides to still play free-flowing football when necessary.
What the pitch also permitted was quick breakaways and it was from a speedy attack that County finally broke the deadlock two minutes after the restart.
A Middlesbrough cross into the County area didn’t seem to be cleared all that well but substitute Rajiv van La Parra just didn’t fancy retrieving it and Amond was surprisingly allowed to hook clear.
His clearance fell the way of Willmott inside his own half, he danced and jived towards the goal as the Middlesbrough back-line retreated, advancing to the edge-of-the-area before picking his spot and smashing past a helpless Konstantopoulos.
Middlesbrough still couldn’t get going despite falling behind, Hugill and Britt Assombalonga were hauled off for Rudy Gestede and Ashley Fletcher, but it didn’t make too much difference as County seemed comfortable.
But what it needed was a second goal from County to allay any fears of a potential fightback – Middlesbrough are a quality side and can turn in an instant from any department of the pitch.
It was one of those games where you just felt Amond would get his deserved goal if County were to increase the lead – and that is exactly what happened after 67 minutes of scintillating football.
I’ve mentioned it in match reports before but it cannot be underestimated just how hard assistant manager Wayne Hatswell works on corner-kicks.
This one was even more interesting as his final words of advice in the dressing room at half-time were to implement this particular routine upon the first corner-kick after the restart – and it worked an absolute treat.
Amond peeled off from the far post towards more of around 16 yards out – similar actually to how County and Frank Nouble scored away at Accrington Stanley last season – Middlesbrough didn’t read it and the Irishman smashed it into the roof of the net.
That shell-shocked Middlesbrough even further but still they just couldn’t carve out any opportunities and when Joe Day came out of his goal to hold two aerial crosses into the area, Rodney Parade went eerily quiet in the opinion that the game was already done.
Of course, it wasn’t that simple but there was just something about County tonight that hinted everything was going to be okay – and when Amond and Matt both block shots inside their own area then you can see just how tirelessly every member of the squad worked for the cause.
Fletcher backheeled a shot that was held easily by Day as the visitors did at least do something before the full-time whistle – but this was a night for County and the 13 players involved – matching their best ever run in the Emirates FA Cup 70 years to the day since County beat Huddersfield Town in 1949 to book their spot in the Fifth Round of the competition.
This result is for the whole city of Newport!
Newport County AFC (3-4-1-2): Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C), Poole, Willmott (Pipe 85’), Bennett, Bakinson, Labadie (Dolan 74’), Amond, Matt
Subs not used: Townsend, Marsh-Brown, Sheehan, Forbes, Crofts
Middlesbrough FC (3-5-2): Konstantopoulos, Friend (C), Fry, Flint, Ayala, McNair (van La Parra 45’), Clayton, Howson, Wing, Assombalonga (Fletcher 60’), Hugill (Gestede 56’)
Subs not used: Lonergan, Downing, Tavernier, Besic
Referee: Stuart Attwell
Attendance: 6,553 (531 AWAY)
Next up for County: Mansfield Town (9th February 2019) HOME