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REPORT | Exiles seal place in play-offs after dramatic final-day draw against Southend United

8 May 2021

Newport County AFC booked their place in the Sky Bet League Two play-offs after a dramatic final-day 1-1 draw against Southend United at Roots Hall.

The Exiles needed to avoid defeat against the already-relegated Shrimpers to seal a top-seven finish after Exeter City’s late winner against Bolton Wanderers denied them last week.

But Southend defender Shaun Hobson put the home side on course to spoil County’s party when he fired home early on.

Mickey Demetriou responded for the visitors after heading home in the second half before Tom King came to the Exiles' rescue after denying the hosts from the penalty spot.

And County held out for a share of the spoils to secure a fifth-place finish and set up a play-off sem-final tie against Forest Green Rovers.

Michael Flynn opted to name an unchanged side for the fifth successive game after picking up 10 points from their last four outings.

County went close to breaking the deadlock with a well-worked move which ended with Aaron Lewis testing Southend goalkeeper Mark Oxley at his near post.

The home side then fired an early warning sign to the Exiles down the opposite end when Greg Halford latched on to Matt Rush’s header and forced a strong save out of Tom King.

County had kept four successive clean sheets prior to their trip to Essex but their resistance was finally broken inside the 11th minute. The Shrimpers opted to go short from a corner and, after Terrell Egbri’s cross fell kindly to Hobson, the defender fired home into the bottom corner.

The Exiles were adamant they should have had a penalty six minutes later when a long ball over the top from Scot Bennett picked out the run of Padraig Amond in the penalty area. The striker looked to take the ball beyond John White before it appeared to hit the hand of the defender, although referee John Brooks dismissed County’s protests.

Phil Brown’s side then enjoyed a glorious opportunity to double their lead when Elvis Bwomono found an unmarked Halford, who somehow blazed over the crossbar from four yards out with the goal gaping.

Sheehan was pulling the strings for the away side in the centre of the park and combined with Scot Bennett and Liam Shephard to carve out another chance. It ended with Lewis picking out the run of Collins, whose header was easily gathered by Oxley.

Bennett then had Oxley scrambling when he tried his luck from the edge of the area, but the ball sailed just wide of the post.

The home side began lively after the interval and County had King to thank for preventing them from doubling their advantage with two quick-fire saves. First, he kept out Rush's effort from the centre of the area with his face before recovering quickly to deny James Olayinka.

County hit back 11 minutes into the second half. After Lewis launched a long throw-in towards Demetriou, the defender rose highest and flicked a header home to draw the visitors level.

But they almost found themselves behind for the second time five minutes after the restart when the Shrimpers were awarded a penalty. Egbri's cross caused problems in the away side's area and after Rush competed with Shephard to get to the ball, the latter was penalised for handball. Rush stepped up to take the spot-kick but saw his effort from 12 yards denied after a strong save by King.

County were then dealt a blow after Labadie went down following a coming together with two Southend players and was forced off, with Matty Dolan replacing the Exiles skipper.

There were four minutes indicated by the fourth official but there were no late scares for the Exiles as they held out to seal their place in the top seven.

Newport County AFC: Tom King, Ryan Haynes, Mickey Demetriou, Scot Bennett, Liam Shephard, Aaron Lewis, Anthony Hartigan, Josh Sheehan, Joss Labadie (C) (Matty Dolan 75'), Lewis Collins, Padraig Amond (Ryan Taylor 79').

Subs not used: Nick Townsend, Joe Ledley, Kevin Ellison, Luke Gambin, Nicky Maynard.


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