Kevin Ellison came off the bench to head in a late winner against Oldham Athletic to get Newport County AFC off to the perfect start in the new 2021/22 Sky Bet League Two season.
The 42-year-old, who signed a one-year extension this week, replaced Lewis Collins with 17 minutes left on the clock but that was enough for him to earn the Exiles maximum points on the opening day - a feat which they haven't achieved since 2013.
In the dying minutes, the veteran striker met a perfect Ryan Haynes cross and looped a header over Oldham ‘keeper Danny Rogers right in front of the visiting 317 County fans.
The Exiles welcomed three new signings into the team with debuts for Cameron Norman, Ed Upson and Jermaine Hylton while Joe Day returned in goal after two seasons away.
After spending last season playing behind closed doors, both sides were cheered on to the pitch at Boundary Park by the returning support and it was the home crowd who had more to cheer in the opening quarter of an hour as the Latics started strongly.
The Exiles continually gifted possession to the hosts and struggled to compete in the aerial duels, which gave Oldham the upper hand, however, Day wasn’t forced into any meaningful save as the County defence managed to cope with the early pressure.
A tussle between Norman and home skipper Carl Piergianni led to the first two bookings of the game and the County wing back became a target for the home crowd as a result.
The Exiles finally found their rhythm in attack on the half-hour mark with Robbie Willmott and Mickey Demetriou firing in crosses from both wings, but Collins couldn’t get the ball under control to test Rogers.
Newly appointed captain Matty Dolan had to be replaced towards the end of the half after he picked up a knock, debutant James Clarke replaced him.
Piergianni and Jacob Blyth both tried their luck with headers as the half-time whistle beckoned. The Oldham captain went closest as his effort flew narrowly past the post while Blyth’s attempt was simple enough for Day, whose last County appearance came 805 days ago.
The tables turned after the restart as County started on the front foot with Wilmott’s deliveries proving troublesome and Michael Flynn opted to make an early second-half change with Fulham loanee Timmy Abraham coming on for Hylton on 51 minutes.
Willmott, who spent the second half of last season on loan at Exeter City, continued to find space down the left flank and fired in a number of crosses but it was his set-piece delivery that looked to have helped open the scoring when Demetriou powered home a header from his free kick, but the linesman’s flag ensured the score stayed level.
Piergianni continued to carry the threat for the hosts as he rose highest in the box, twice, but both times he saw the ball fly agonisingly wide.
As the clock ticked down for the final 20 minutes Ellison replaced Collins in County’s third and final change and it proved to be an inspired substitution. Haynes won possession in the middle of the park and raced down the left wing before firing an inch-perfect delivery for Ellison, who connected perfectly and gave Rogers no chance with the header to send the visiting fans wild.
Newport County AFC: Joe Day; Priestley Farquharson, Matty Dolan (C) (James Clarke 35), Mickey Demetriou; Cameron Norman, Robbie Willmott, Scot Bennett, Ed Upson, Ryan Haynes; Lewis Collins (Kevin Ellison 73), Jermaine Hylton (Timmy Abraham 51).
Subs not used: Nick Townsend, Aaron Lewis, Christopher Missilou, Jordan Greenidge.