The Hatters’ second match of the Easter weekend saw them back in SK3, where they not only beat Newport County to achieve a first Good Friday/Easter Monday ‘double’ in 20 years – but also, by virtue of their four-goal victory, moved up into third place and the automatic promotion positions.
A first-half brace for leading scorer Kyle Wootton set (Stockport) County on the way, before Jack Stretton and Kyle Knoyle added second-half goals that brought to an end the Hatters’ run of four successive home draws and extended their unbeaten run to eight matches.
The two ‘-Port Countys’ took to the field on a drizzly Monday afternoon, following a morning of heavy showers, and with the hosts showing the same starting line-up as that at Sutton three days earlier – albeit featuring a slightly-tweaked formation, as Myles Hippolyte dropped back into an expanded, five-player midfield. The bench from Friday’s match in Greater London also remained unchanged.
Following some cagey opening exchanges, the afternoon’s first meaningful attack produced a goal to put the Hatters in front with under nine minutes on the clock. Acting skipper Ryan Croasdale broke down the right, before finding Hippolyte, who beat Declan Drysdale, and then crossed for Wootton to head home his 13th goal of the campaign.
The visitors’ own top marksman, Omar Bogle, was next to try his luck, around the quarter-hour mark, with a shot from just outside the box that Ben Hinchliffe parried before Neill Byrne stepped in to clear.
But the Hatters continued to press – with Hippolyte seeing a shot deflected into the arms of visiting goalkeeper Joe Day, and Fraser Horsfall blasting over from the edge of the area.
Just ahead of the half-hour, Croasdale underwent a second spell of bank holiday treatment before continuing play with a bandaged head – just as he had done at EP against Crewe on Boxing Day – and, five minutes later, another foray by the Hatters saw Wootton head narrowly wide of the far post, after connecting with Knoyle’s cross from the right by-line.
Charlie McNeill unleashed Newport’s second attempt, by way of a half-volley from distance on the left – but Hinchliffe positioned himself well to catch the effort cleanly in front of the near upright. And, at the other end, Rydel cut in from the left before shooting at Day.
Four minutes were added on – primarily on account of Croasdale’s injury – and deep into those, Wootton and the Hatters doubled their tallies. Rydel, from the left, squared to the striker who drilled past Day on the turn to give his side a two-goal haul for the first time in nine games.
HALF-TIME: County 2 (Wootton, 9 and 45 + 3), Newport 0.
Each side earned an early second-half corner that led to a half-chance – with Newport skipper Mickey Demetriou latching on to Aaron Wildig’s delivery from the left, only to skew his shot beyond the near post, and Hippolyte volleying over following Knoyle’s on the right.
An attacking Newport double-substitution on the hour saw the visitors increase the tempo – and McNeill, with Hinchliffe off his line, fired narrowly past the left upright following a break.
But rather than seeing their advantage halved, the Hatters soon extended it further – with the third goal involving another assist by Rydel from the left. It found Stretton to the far side of goal, and the forward duly netted for the second time in as many games, courtesy of a shot in off the right post.
It was to prove Stretton’s final touch of the afternoon, with Paddy Madden already lined up to replace him. And Madden, a minute or two later, combined well with fellow substitute Antoni Sarcevic, whose low shot from the ‘D’ stung the hands of Day.
Another freshly-introduced player in attack, Tanto Olaofe, went close, after being played through by Madden, with an angled shot from the right that took a deflection behind off Nathan Moriah-Welsh. But Madden’s next assist, from the left wit a minute remaining, found Knoyle, who converted from close range to make it four for the Hatters and elevate them into that all-important top three.
Could the day get any better for Hatters? As it happens, yes – thanks to a late Cheltenham equaliser in League One at Whaddon Road that saw Ipswich fall short at the final hurdle to miss out on equalling County’s League record from 2007 of nine successive wins without conceding a goal.
FULL-TIME: County 4 (Wootton, 9 and 45 + 3; Stretton, 65; Knoyle, 89), Newport 0.
Team (3-5-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Horsfall, Byrne; Knoyle, Collar (Evans, 72), Croasdale (Capt.), Hippolyte (Sarcevic, 66 (Hussey, 90)), Rydel; Stretton (Madden, 66), Wootton (Olaofe, 72).
Unused Subs: Jaros, R.Johnson.
Man of the Match: Wootton.
Attendance: 9,179 (344 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.