Newport County 1-2 Swindon: The dream lives on

After this fixture was delayed by three weeks due to a NATO summit taking place in Newport, Jonny Leighfield and Swindon finally got the chance to begin a new JPT dream at Newport County F.C’s Rodney Parade.

Mark Cooper arrived in Newport with what seemed like a full squad trundling off the coach behind him. Whether he’d asked players such as Ben Gladwin and Yaser Kasim to come along, regardless of their unavailability, or whether they had travelled with the squad of their own free will, shows that morale in the squad is very high. The lads want to support each other irrespective of their personal or professional status which is great to see.

Cooper made five changes to the side that tore through Sheffield United at will last Saturday. Tyrell Belford replaced Foderingham in goal, Josh Lelan came in for Raphael Rossi Branco after the maverick Brazilian picked up a tight groin at the weekend. Jack Barthram and Jake Reeves replaced Massimo Luongo and Kasim respectively and finally Andy Williams got a deserved start giving Michael Smith an equally deserved rest.

Swindon made a nervy start to the game at Rodney Parade, failing to keep hold of the ball for very long as Newport pressed hard early doors. After a few failed attempts at playing out from the back, Newport turned over possession and nearly scored the game’s opening goal. Newport’s O’Connor was played through on goal and if it wasn’t for a fantastic last stitch tackle from Nathan Thompson, O’Connor’s name might have been first on the score sheet. From the resulting corner, Ty Belford had to be alert to punch away, as an in-swinging corner was delivered underneath the young goalkeeper’s crossbar.

On six minutes Jonathan Obika had Town’s first shot after a nice interchange of passes gave the big front man a chance to open the scoring, but his drive was blocked by a County defender. Newport then cleared up-field where they won another corner that Belford had to deal with. This time the ex-Liverpool stopper didn’t deal with the cross so well, flapping at the hanging ball but he and the other Swindon defenders did just about enough to clear the danger.

From this point on, Town began to grow into the game by choosing to play their way towards the Newport goal with a range of short, sharp passing. In contrast, Newport’s main plan of attack was more agricultural, electing to by-pass the midfield and look to hit their frontmen early. For the first ten to fifteen minutes, Swindon’s defence were occasionally struggling with the long balls but it didn’t take them much longer to begin to show their dominance in the aerial battles.

Town soon began to play some of the type of football that has lifted them up to the lofty heights of fourth in League One. The impressive Reeves was controlling the game from Kasim’s regular position and was bringing both Barthram and Brad Smith into play on a regular occurrence.

On fourteen minutes Barthram crossed for Williams at the back post and if it hadn’t have been for a touch from the toe of a County defender, Williams would have had a simple tap in to open the scoring. Shortly afterwards, it was Barker who slipped the ball through for Brad Smith to run on to however Smith never looked in control of the ball and Newport ‘keeper Day pushed the ball onto Smith and out for a goal kick.

Then the moment we had all been waiting for, the emergence of the vanishing spray. An “I was there” moment if you will. The first time the spray had been used in a Swindon Town fixture was against Newport County in the first round of the Johnstone’s Paint Trophy on the 23rd of September 2014. What a day. I am sure it will go down in local folklore (not). As for the resulting free kick, the delivery in from Barker was headed away to Reeves who scuffed a shot into the grateful arms of Day. Still, the spray was fairly exciting.

The first half continued with Swindon consistently creating chances and Newport camped deep inside their own half. Williams turned Newport captain Andy Sandell with ease, nut-megging him for good measure, before slicing wide from just inside the box. Minutes after Barthram created a lovely chance for Obika to open his account for the night but the frontman shanked his shot horribly wide from twelve yards.

The pressure being applied by Swindon was becoming relentless with Newport barely able to get the ball out of their own half. Reeves was running the show and was unlucky when his fierce shot cannoned back off the crossbar. Shortly after Reeves’ effort, George Barker was put through only for a serious of ping pong like bounces to force a Newport defender to clear off the line.

Then, on the stroke of half time, the richly deserved goal came for Swindon. Williams shrugged off a defender on the corner of the 18 yard box, made some space for a cross and found Obika lurking at the back post to nod Town in front. It was no more than Swindon deserved and other than a weak chipped attempt for Newport’s Jolley, Swindon saw out the remaining minutes of the first half with aplomb.

Swindon started off the second half brightly with Obika having a couple of chances to extend Town’s lead. On the first occasion, Obika had to be strong to hold off and then turn his man before dragging his shot just wide of goal and into the side netting. In the second instance, again Obika held off his man before turning and shooting over.

After a slight lull in proceedings, Newport won a free kick around 30 yards from goal which was feebly driven straight into the wall. County then gathered the ball back and clipped it to the back post for O’Connor to head in but he inadvertently headed wide. It was a huge let off for Swindon and not something O’Connor would wish to see again I would imagine.

On the hour, Swindon grabbed goal number two as Jack Barthram, who worked hard all game, played a brilliant chipped through ball to Andy Williams who measured a sublime chip like a veteran surgeon to lob Newport goalkeeper Day and make sure the ball dropped just underneath the crossbar. Pure class.

The second goal seemed to give the away side the confidence to go on and push for a possible third goal with the likes of George Barker and Jonathan Obika having further half-chances to lengthen the away side’s advantage. However with Barker shooting over and some sturdy defending from Newport to Keep Obika out, Swindon would have to make do with a two goal lead, for now.

Connor Waldon came on with twenty minutes to go to replace Brad Smith and combined well with Anton Rodgers to give the Liverpool manager’ son two bites at the cherry to grab a first goal for Swindon but again, resolute defending and a good save from Day kept the midfielder out.

After that, Swindon began to just knock the ball around in an attempt to slow down the tempo of the game and run out the clock, however as Newport had nothing to lose, they began to throw more body’s forward and create a few more chances themselves. Chris Zebroski was unlucky with a side foot effort but his shot was deflected wide. From the subsequent corner, County defender Pigott headed just over from six yards as Belford tried to come and clear but was crowded out by the sheer number of bodies.

Swindon carried on playing the ball around the back before a simply wonderful piece of skill from Ty Belford made the majority of Rodney Parade go all gooey-eyed at the sight of this rare piece of showboating from a goalkeeper. Josh Lelan passed the ball back to Belford and with an advancing Newport attacker chasing him down, Belford calmly and expertly chopped the ball with his right foot behind his left to Nathan Thompson in the vacant central defensive area. Unbelievable Jeff!

By the time most of the travelling supporters had recovered from the sheer brilliance of Belford, Newport were charging back to the centre after grabbing a goal back. Zebroski crossed to O’Connor at the back post who again shanked a volley which looked to be going wide until Klukowski poked home from a yard out. Ten minutes to go. Let panic set in.

Newport began pumping balls into Swindon’s end of the pitch in an attempt to make the score all square, although it has to be said the Town defence continued to look very good in the air heading away all that was thrown at them. Swindon could have regained their two goal advantage when Williams played in Barker who struck the upright with only five minutes to go but it wasn’t to be. It was up to the Swindon rear guard to hold on and deal with every long ball that was inevitably being sent their way.

Five minutes of added time was shown as Zebroski was allowed to run down the right hand side and deliver a cross to Pigott, although his shot was weak and Belford gathered easily. In the dying embers Newport threw caution to the wind, sending their goalkeeper up for a corner and while it was a goalkeeper who would have the final say, it wasn’t Newport ‘keeper Day. As the corner was sent in, Jolley rose highest to send a header goal-ward and if it wasn’t for a fantastic save from Belford, the game would have been decided by penalties.

On the whole, Swindon fully deserved the win even though at times they had to defend resolutely to maintain their advantage. It shows that, admittedly against a weaker team on this occasion, we will still be able to be competitive without Kasim and Luongo in January when they head off to the Asia Cup. Positive food for thought.

As it was, Swindon were victors by two goals to one and will travel to Plymouth Argyle in the second round. The dream lives on.

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