Newport County AFC battled to a hard-earned point with a 1-1 draw against fellow promotion hopefuls Salford City at Rodney Parade.
Chances were at a premium in a cagey encounter that saw Josh Sheehan sent off on the hour mark. Salford failed to register a shot on target while County’s tally of two didn’t really test Salford goalkeeper Václav Hladký.
The point keeps County in the hunt for automatic promotion with two games in hand on their rivals.
Manager Michael Flynn stuck with the majority of the squad that took Premier League side Brighton & Hove Albion all the way to penalties in the Emirates FA Cup last weekend. After producing a showreel of stunning saves goalkeeper Tom King was handed his first league appearance of the season while club captain Joss Labadie returned to the starting XI in one of three changes.
Striker Ryan Taylor made his first start since October 3, and was supported by debutant Jake Scrimshaw, who joined the Exiles on loan from AFC Bournemouth last week.
A lot of the first half was spent in the middle third with neither side wanting to give anything away. It was clear that Salford identified Sheehan as a big threat and decided to give Robbie Gotts the task of man-marking him throughout the game. Whenever the Welsh international got on the ball, the Salford man wasn’t far away and County struggled to adapt initially.
The hosts were then forced into a reshuffle midway through the first half when Ryan Haynes came off worse in an aerial challenge with Ashley Hunter and had to be replaced by Ashley Baker who went to right wing-back with Liam Shephard swapping over to the left.
A mix-up between Matty Dolan and David Longe-King at the back almost let Salford in when they conceded a cheap throw-in and quick thinking saw Ian Henderson play in Ibou Touray. The left back managed to get a shot away that just flew over the crossbar.
Tom Clarke then went close for the Ammies when a perfect delivery from Hunter met the head of the visiting captain but he couldn’t find the target.
The Exiles had to play the final half hour with 10 men after Sheehan was shown a straight red card for a robust challenge on Hunter. After discussions with his colleagues Anthony Backhouse decided to brandish the card.
The dismissal, along with treatment interventions for both Mickey Demetriou and Salford’s Tom Elliott, stopped the flow of the game but Flynn hadn’t given up hope of victory and made a double change in attack introducing Tristan Abrahams and Kevin Ellison.
With the numerical advantage Salford were enjoying more of the possession and a flowing team move ended with Hunter receiving the ball in space on the right but King was equal to his effort that was rising above the crossbar.
Padraig Amond replaced Ellison for the final eight minutes and his substitution coincided with a sustained spell of pressure. The Exiles’ never say die attitude was in full view as Scot Bennett almost snatched the winner with a thunderous effort at the death but it flew just over Hladky's goal.
Newport County AFC: Tom King, Ryan Haynes (Ashley Baker 17'), Mickey Demetriou, Matty Dolan, David Longe-King, Liam Shephard, Scot Bennett, Josh Sheehan, Joss Labadie (C), Jake Scrimshaw (Tristan Abrahams 70), Ryan Taylor (Kevin Ellison 70, Padraig Amond 82).
Subs not used: Nick Townsend, Jamie Devitt, Owen Windsor.