Newport County AFC suffered defeat in the most agonising of circumstances as Callum Ainley struck a decisive blow in stoppage time to give Crewe Alexandra a 3-2 victory at Gresty Road.
It had looked like County were destined for three points when second-half strikes from Antoine Semenyo and Padraig Amond overturned Jordan Bowery’s effort in the closing stages of first-half proceedings.
But Crewe weren’t to be denied another victory at home – most of their points this season have come in Cheshire – and Ainley struck in the added extras after Chris Porter converted a spot-kick two minutes from time.
The result sees County remain in 13th position in the League Two table but the gap on the play-offs and the automatic promotion spots continues to rise to eight and eleven points respectively.
After their heroics six days ago of knocking out top-flight opposition in the Emirates FA Cup for the first time in 55 years, Mike Flynn elected to make one change from the starting side at Rodney Parade.
Back came Dan Butler who missed County’s momentous occasion through suspension, with Vashon Neufville – who coped superbly when thrown in at the deep end having only joined the club 36 hours before the Leicester game – moving to the bench.
That like-for-like change meant the Exiles again maintained the 4-4-2 formation that worked to perfection last time out, as Antoine Semenyo and Robbie Willmott provided support to the 30-goal strike force of Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt.
Crewe manager David Artell matched Flynn when making just the one solitary change to his side that last played one week ago in a stoppage time salvage job away at Morecambe.
Midfielder Paul Green missed out completely from the matchday line-up to be replaced by Callum Ainley, with Crewe not just matching County in the amount of changes but team formation as well with the implementation of a 4-4-2 system.
In a first-half that didn’t quite live up to the one at Rodney Parade six days ago, chances certainly came at a premium but Crewe were able to use their possession to good effect when taking a lead back with them to the dressing rooms.
It was County who started the better at Gresty Road but they couldn’t capitalise on encouraging work from midfield in the opening five minutes. Jamille Matt elected to go for goal himself rather than feed the onrushing Robbie Willmott, but the shot was relatively comfortable for Crewe goalkeeper Ben Garratt.
Most of the chances created from either side were coming from surging runs from the flying wing-backs / midfielders and Crewe striker Chris Porter should have done a lot better when found from a Perry Ng cross instead of blazing high and wide when free virtually underneath the crossbar and with the goal at his mercy.
An attempt from Bowery then a speculative one from 50 yards from Ryan Wintle were both so comfortable for Day as the game seemed to dwindle out a little bit, both defences limiting the opportunities and stifling most of the play.
The sound of a motorbike passing Gresty Road acted as the precursor for County to rev it up a bit amidst a lull of opportunities in the middle part of the first-half and Amond saw a header hit the roof of the net from another pinpoint delivery by Willmott.
Crewe were always the major force on proceedings if any, however, and from Garratt’s subsequent goal-kick, they opened the scoring after 34 minutes.
The effervescent Ng again caused havoc down the County left side, his cross was perfect for Chris Porter to send a deft flick into Bowery’s path, and after skipping Demetriou’s lunging challenge, the striker calmly slotted through the legs of Day for his seventh of the season.
The Exiles almost hit back instantaneously when Willmott again delivered a peach of a cross into the area, Semenyo struggled at first to get it under his command but eventually worked the space for a shot, Ng putting his body on the line to keep his side in-front with a vital block.
That was it for first-half proceedings as the two minutes of additional time came and went without a murmur, but Day had to keep County in it to start the second-half by first denying Ng with his shins, then a reaction stop to keep out home captain George Ray.
Those saves, as always, were absolutely crucial for the Exiles and they took full advantage of the situation in Cheshire by turning the game completely on its head with goals on 66 and 76 minutes.
Mickey Demetriou’s long throw wasn’t dealt with at all well by the Crewe defence, the ball only going as far as Bakinson on the edge of the area, he fed his fellow Bristol City loanee Antoine Semenyo who fired home from an acute angle via a slight deflection off Pickering on the way through.
Crewe were certainly becoming the architects of their own downfall and another wayward clearance led to County getting their second. This time Ng kicked towards his own goal when trying to clear from outside the area, Garratt wasn’t ready for it and was beaten in the air by Matt, that caused a goalmouth scramble but Amond squeezed it home for his 17th of the season.
In between those two goals, Day was again heroic to stop Crewe from finding the net, this time tipping an emphatic 35-yard strike from Kirk over his crossbar.
But the home side would get one final opportunity to do what they did last weekend and fightback in League Two after Franks was adjudged to have pulled down a Crewe attacker in the area with two minutes remaining.
If there’s one player who knows how to take a penalty under pressure, it’s Crewe attacker Porter – his spot-kick got them a point in stoppage time against Morecambe last weekend – and it looked like scoring for the fifth successive game would secure them a point this weekend too.
But football can be such a cruel game and Crewe converted one point into all three by striking in the second minute of additional time.
It was so cruel on Day in particular not just for his superb saves up until that point, but the two in the build-up to this goal to deny Bowery then substitute Owen Dale were also magnificent, but the Railwaymen weren’t to be denied for a third time as Ainley fired home from close range.
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Day, Forbes, Demetriou, Franks (C), Butler, Dolan (Bakinson 57’), Bennett, Willmott (O’Brien 90), Semenyo (Sheehan 80’), Amond, Matt
Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Marsh-Brown, Neufville
Crewe Alexandra (4-4-2): Garratt, Ng, Ray (C). Hunt (Finney 82’), Pickering, Kirk (Dale 78’), Ainley, Wintle, Jones, Porter, Bowery
Subs not used: Richards, Raynes, Miller, Lowery, Offord
Referee: Nicholas Kinseley
Attendance: 3,104 (186 AWAY)
Next up for County: Exeter City (19th January 2019) HOME