Robbie Willmott scored a stunner for the second game in succession to ensure a spirited and immense team performance was rewarded with a three-point haul after a 1-0 victory over high-flyers Mansfield Town.
County were again excellent from the first whistle to the last and they ensured a fourth successive victory at Rodney Parade after Willmott’s decisive strike on 15 minutes.
The victory means County close the gap on Exeter City in the final play-off position to eight points – and the Exiles also have a game in hand on the Grecians and most of the top-seven as well.
After such a resolute and sublime whole team performance when knocking Championship outfit Middlesbrough out of the Emirates FA Cup on Tuesday, Mike Flynn elected to build on that momentum and start the exact same team at Rodney Parade.
There was a slight formation adjustment into more of a 4-4-2 formation as opposed to the usual 3-4-1-2 system, with the Exiles trying to assert dominance down the right with Regan Poole and Robbie Willmott.
Ahead of the game, Mansfield were the form side in League Two, so their manager David Flitcroft also named an unchanged team to the one that defeated strugglers Macclesfield Town last Saturday.
The Stags elected to name a 3-4-1-2 system in South Wales and their side composed winger Jorge Grant – who often terrorises the Exiles – and influential strikers Nicky Ajose and Tyler Walker.
But despite the away side having only lost two of their last 24 league matches, County weren’t afraid to take the game to their opponents and basically dominated the entirety of the first-half.
Mansfield just couldn’t live with the menacing threat of Robbie Willmott down the right, he was taking them apart every time he was afforded space and it told that his marker – left-back Mal Benning – was withdrawn at half-time.
It was also announced yesterday that the versatile defender /midfielder had signed a new two-year contract – that seemed to give him an extra lease of life and he was purely unplayable.
It almost seemed impossible that Willmott could better his performance from the Middlesbrough game, but this was something else – another level – and he got the goal his performance deserved after 15 minutes.
I’ve written in match reports all season of the work assistant manager Wayne Hatswell does on set-pieces – it worked a treat against Middlesbrough in a goal which BT Sport commentator Ian Darke described as ‘Premier League quality.’
This corner-kick tactic was one the Exiles had tried on numerous occasions thus far this campaign, but clearly the Stags hadn’t done their homework as no-one in a green shirt got close as Willmott smashed into the roof of the net from 22 yards.
Set-pieces were the way forward for the Exiles as the Stags just couldn’t cope with the aerial pressure, Joss Labadie headed on to the roof of the net and Tyreeq Bakinson saw a shot deflected wide.
On 25 minutes, the Exiles again worked a free-kick well to put the ball into the net but it was ruled out for offside – Jamille Matt headed on a Dan Butler cross for Joss Labadie to turn home, but it was Matt who was adjudged to have been offside in the initial instance.
That was about it for clear-cut chances from the Exiles in the inaugural 45 minutes, but it was another scintillating display from the whole team, although Willmott stood out by a country mile.
In response, Mansfield offered very little in terms of menacing play, they played some really intricate play that carved the County midfield apart on occasion, but it’s no good playing in the middle third of the pitch and the Exiles were happy to soak up the pressure.
Regan Poole was, although the youngest member of the back-four, immense in leading the backline in their defensive organisation and he nullified the threat of Jorge Grant throughout.
His performance was superb, and his decision making was always correct – picking the right passes, covering when required and timing his tackles to absolute perfection.
When Mansfield chances did arrive they never came through Poole’s right channel, CJ Hamilton worked space through the left after 30 seconds but Nicky Ajose wasted a glorious chance when virtually underneath the crossbar.
Tyler Walker – son of England international Des – scuffed a shot straight at Joe Day and Ryan Sweeney sent a free header high over the crossbar.
In the second-half, County again soaked up a load of pressure from the Stags as they looked to fight their way back into the contest.
There still wasn’t that clinical edge from the away side, however, as Joe Day had a relatively comfortable afternoon throughout.
The lack of intent from the Stags was mostly down to the sheer work from Joss Labadie and Scot Bennett as the defensive screen, their work rate was immense, and they probably ran the most out of the whole team.
As the game ticked towards the conclusion, Mansfield had to do something to try and force the issue – that left the Stags vulnerable on the counter-attack and Matt almost doubled the advantage with 13 minutes remaining, but he was thwarted by a super stop from Jordan Smith.
A horror injury to Stags striker Danny Rose – by all accounts a suspected broken jaw which blocked his airway – meant there was 11 minutes added on at the end of the contest.
Mansfield centre-half Krystian Pearce almost broke County hearts in the fifth minute of the added extras when his header narrowly crept past the far post, but this was another immense team performance from the Exiles and nothing was going to stop them getting all three points at Rodney Parade.
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Day, Butler, O’Brien (C), Demetriou, Poole, Bakinson, Labadie, Bennett, Willmott (Dolan 88’), Amond, Matt
Subs not used: Townsend, Marsh-Brown, Sheehan, Kennedy, Forbes, Crofts
Mansfield Town (3-4-1-2): Smith, Sweeney, Pearce, Preston, Benning (Khan 45’), Hamilton, Bishop, Mellis, Grant, Ajose (Rose 45’) (Tomlinson 53’), Walker
Subs not used: Logan, Atkinson, Jones, Smith
Referee: Graham Salisbury
Attendance: 3,133 (362 AWAY)
Next up for County: MK Dons (12th February 2019) HOME