Newport County AFC produced their most impressive performance on the road this season as they secured their first away victory in 11 attempts in League Two with a comprehensive 4-1 victory at strugglers Notts County.
The Exiles looked comfortable throughout and controlled the play from the first whistle to the last, with the game’s greatest moment coming when Jamille Matt got his second from an exquisite overhead kick.
That was to make it 3-1 midway through the first-half, Fraser Franks and Notts County attacker Kane Hemmings had already traded goals and Matt got his first, whilst Padraig Amond made it a simple victory with the fourth just after the interval.
The victory means County have got their play-off push back on track by closing the gap on the top seven to just six points, staying in 15th in the process, and the Exiles still have a game in hand on the teams above them.
Manager Mike Flynn resisted the temptation to make wholesale changes to the starting side at Meadow Lane despite the Exiles exerting a lot of energy against Premier League champions Manchester City on Saturday in the Emirates FA Cup.
Only Fraser Franks came back into the side after being restricted to a late substitute appearance against the Citizens, he took the place of Tyreeq Bakinson, with the Exiles switching to a 4-3-3 formation and pushing Robbie Willmott into a more advanced position.
After a much-needed win on Saturday against Nottinghamshire rivals Mansfield Town, Notts County manager Neal Ardley made two changes to his starting side but kept to the 4-4-2 system.
Out went veteran attackers Jon Stead and January signing Craig Mackail-Smith – scorers of over 350 professional goals between them – with Kane Hemmings and Lewis Alessandra returning for the Magpies.
It was clearly Flynn who made the more tactically astute alterations, however, as Franks marked his return with great aplomb and opened the scoring after just nine minutes of the contest.
County had already come out of the traps with intent before the goal, Jamille Matt volleyed over the top inside 60 seconds, Dan Butler sent a free-kick just past the far post, but the Exiles weren’t to be denied for much longer.
Robbie Willmott capitalised on an error from former Exile Mitch Rose to dart into the area, his cross initially looked to be cleared by Sam Stubbs but it was just too short, and the onrushing Franks fired home through Ryan Schofield despite the best efforts of the Magpies shot stopper.
Despite the bright start and a deserved goal, it was initially a short-lived lead, however, as Notts County found their equaliser from their first attack just 59 seconds later.
Joe Day saved well to deny a powerful 30-yard attempt from Jim O’Brien, but the Exiles shot stopper couldn’t quite tip it away from the goal and Kane Hemmings burst through to put a looping header into the back of the net.
There was no need to panic from the Exiles as they looked like they could score at will from every opportunity, Notts County just looked devoid of confidence all over the pitch and the Exiles were in the mood to punish the Magpies as they secured their joint most emphatic away victory of the campaign.
After Padraig Amond saw a half-volley palmed away acrobatically by Schofield on 12 minutes, it felt like County were scoring with every opportunity and they took the game away from their hosts by half-time.
It was a really well executed goal by County to re-take the lead on 15 minutes, Mickey Demetriou played the short throw into Robbie Willmott, he crossed for Amond to head back across goal and Matt didn’t need a second invitation to power back across goal for a superb team goal.
Just as that looked to be the pinnacle goal of the night from a super County performance, Matt put forward his contender for goal of the season on 33 minutes.
Arguably frustrated by seeing Amond leading that competition on his own – just see the goals at Cambridge United away (Carabao Cup), Forest Green Rovers away (League Two) and Middlesbrough home (Emirates FA Cup) – Matt thought he’d like to join the party and beautifully pulled off an overhead kick after a goalmouth scramble for 3-1.
In-between the two strikes which brought up Matt’s 16th and 17th goals of the campaign, Notts County attacker Virgil Gomis fired spectacularly wide and that was all the Magpies could muster before the half-time whistle.
Amond saw a header saved comfortably by Schofield as County continued to impress under the floodlights in Nottingham, and that form was taken into the second-half as well as County got their play-off hunt back on track.
It took them just 91 seconds to add to the tally as Amond brought up 20 goals for the season, this time Matt turned provider when controlling Dan Butler’s cross-field pass, sending a delightful ball into the area to give Amond the simplest of tasks to head home.
The Exiles almost got a fifth by the time 50 minutes had elapsed in the contest, Joss Labadie fired one from distance – around 35 yards – but it agonisingly crashed back off the post.
Notts County can take some encouragement in their fight against relegation in that they did at least start to cause problems to the Exiles from that point, but the game was over as a contest anyway and there was no real danger of a comeback.
Substitute Jon Stead hit the side netting, a piledriver from O’Brien saw Day hurry across his goal to acrobatically turn it over, whilst fellow replacement Craig Mackail-Smith turned a shot over the crossbar from the resulting corner-kick.
Into the final ten minutes went the contest and with the scoreline still comfortable, Flynn saw it as an opportunity to hand Aston Villa loanee Harry McKirdy his debut and he made an instant impact in-front of the travelling support with his terrier like attitude and chasing all the seemingly lost causes.
No further chances could be created, however, as the Exiles confidently saw out an unbelievable team performance in some style – delighting the 116 travelling fans with their best performance on the road this season.
Newport County AFC (3-4-3): Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C), Franks (Dolan 81’), Poole, Bennett, Labadie (Sheehan 90’), Willmott, Amond, Matt (McKirdy 84’)
Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Bakinson, Kennedy
Notts County (4-4-2): Schofield, Rose, Stubbs, Milsom, Barclay, Boldewijn, O’Brien, Doyle (C), Alessandra (Stead 53’), Gomis (Mackail-Smith 53’), Hemmings
Subs not used: Fitzsimons, Tootle, Bird, Hewitt, Vaughan
Referee: Simon Hooper
Attendance: 6,253 (116 AWAY)
Next up for County: MK Dons (23rd February 2019) AWAY