The Hatters returned to League Two action with a trip across the Welsh border that saw them prevail by the odd goal in three in the League Two battle of the ‘-Port Countys’, to earn a first victory in Newport since 1987 and extend their unbeaten run in all competitions to seven matches.
In a first meeting between the two sides in nine years, and only their second at the current home of the ‘Exiles’ on Rodney Parade, the hosts went ahead on the stroke of half-time – before Chris Hussey equalised shortly after the break, and captain Paddy Madden converted the winner with 17 minutes remaining.
(Stockport) County took to the field on a mild and cloudy afternoon in South Wales, showing two changes from the league starting line-up at Tranmere 11 days earlier – with Macauley Southam-Hales, born a dozen miles west in Cardiff, and Antoni Sarcevic replacing James Brown and Calum MacDonald – but some five tweaks to that for the more recent home FA Cup-tie against Swindon.
Set-pieces from the hosts posed a threat in the opening minutes, courtesy of two long throws into the County box from skipper Mickey Demetriou, followed by Omar Bogle’s free-kick from just outside it that was blocked by the Hatters’ wall. But with eight minutes on the clock. Newport went close in open play – with Ben Hinchliffe arching his back to tip over Declan Drysdale’s header.
At the other end, Madden headed, and cleared the crossbar, from a Sarcevic free-kick on the right – before the latter drilled a couple of deliveries beyond the right post, and, just before the half-hour mark, saw a shot blocked at point-blank range by Scot Bennett who required treatment for his heroics.
With three minutes of the half remaining, Drysdale sent a header into the arms of Hinchliffe, after Cameron Norman had flicked on a Demetriou throw-in from the left – but just as added time approached, with scoring opportunities otherwise seemingly at a premium, Newport took the lead.
Good work by Bogle on the right culminated in a low delivery across the goalmouth for Aaron Lewis to bundle home from close range – thereby breaching the Hatters’ defence for the first time in nearly 10 hours of play in all competitions.
HALF-TIME: Newport 1 (A. Lewis, 44), County 0.
Ryan Croasdale unleashed the first shot following the resumption, with an effort that flew high and wide at the home end. And the Hatters then tested goalkeeper Joe Day for the first time, with a low shot from Myles Hippolyte that Newport’s Number One dived to parry, before Sarcevic’s follow-up on the rebound was blocked and cleared.
It was a promising second-half start by the Hatters – and nine minutes after their return to the field they were back on level terms, as Hussey’s free-kick from the right evaded all in attendance to soar into the far corner of the net.
Croasdale and Will Evans fired high shots at either end, before Fraser Horsfall, on his birthday, went close to enhancing celebrations by volleying a Hippolyte cross from the left wide of the near upright.
But with their next foray of note, the Hatters were ahead after Southam-Hales crossed from the right for Madden, whose volley from the far side of goal crossed the line despite opposing skipper Demetriou’s best efforts to keep the ball out.
Newport looked to respond through Bogle, with a curling shot that Hinchliffe did well to palm away, and Norman, who blasted over. And the Hatters went close to adding a third, following a break that saw Will Collar’s cross from the right headed against the bar by Madden.
Evans and Bennett were presented with opportunities to secure a share of the spoils for the hosts either side of the 90-minute mark, only to see their shots saved by Hinchliffe.
FULL-TIME: Newport 1 (A. Lewis, 44), County 2 (Hussey, 54; Madden, 73).
Team (3-4-1-2): Hinchliffe; Wright, Horsfall, Hussey; Southam-Hales (J. Lewis, 81), Collar, Croasdale, Hippolyte; Sarcevic (R. Johnson, 81); Wootton, Madden (Capt.).
Unused Subs: Jones, C. Evans, Crankshaw, Brown, MacDonald.
Attendance: 3,753 (517 away).
Reporter: Gareth Evans.
Photographer: Mike Petch.