ewport County truly exorcised the demon that was the home defeat to Yeovil a fortnight ago as they overturned a two-goal deficit to run out comfortable 4-2 winners against Cambridge United.
Goalkeeper Joe Day was unavailable for the U’s visit for personal reasons, handing back-up ‘keeper Nick Townsend his first league start for the Exiles. He is unlikely to have dreamt that he would be picking the ball out of the net within a few minutes of his full league debut, but that’s exactly what he had to do.
Reggie Lambe, who was a real live wire throughout the opening stages – as many of his teammates were – was given the ball on the corner of the penalty box; his turn was sharp but his finish was sharper, arrowing his right-footed effort past Townsend’s despairing dive and into the far corner.
This did kick the home side into life, however, immediately getting their foot on the ball with more purpose and causing the visitors problems. This resulted in the Cambridge backline failing to clear their lines from a Dan Butler cross but Charlie Cooper could only stab his effort wide of the target. Josh Sheehan had the next best effort of a scrappy period, but his 30-yard free kick flew handsomely high and wide.
It was a bit of a sucker-punch to the home side that they went 2-0 down on 20 minutes, but it was that man Lambe again doing the damage. He picked the ball up 25 yards from goal, exploded past the first defender – nutmegging him and sitting him down in the process – then cut inside a second before calmly picking his spot in the top corner. This really was an exquisite piece of brilliance in a very gritty half of football.
Manager Mike Flynn reacted by putting Jamille Matt on in place of Josh Sheehan and this certainly gave the home side more potency going forward; his brace against Chelsea’s Under-21 side in midweek clearly giving him an extra spring in his step. This change came hand-in-hand with a formation change, going from the well-established 3-4-1-2 to a more attacking 4-3-3.
County’s route back into the game was gifted to them as Liam O’Neill put two hands through Charlie Cooper back in the corner of the penalty area; referee Brett Huxtable was well-placed to give the spot kick. Captain Mickey Demetriou made no mistake from 12 yards and made the halftime scoreline 2-1, rather than the 2-0 that seemed likely.
The subsequent turnaround in the second half was one of near-biblical proportions as the men in Amber came out a completely different side. The equaliser stemmed from a wicked Dan Butler cross from the left hand side which found Padraig Amond who poked it high into the net past David Forde. On the hour mark, the comeback was completed. Dan Butler again whipped a brilliant ball into the box which found a stooping Jamille Matt, who duly nodded the Exiles in front.
Extra polish was added to the result just three minutes later, Dan Butler again showed what his left foot is capable of. The former Portsmouth man whipped in a perfect free kick from the right-hand side which perfectly found the towering figure of Jamille Matt who powered it into the net.
Matt was exceptional from the bench; he bullied the Cambridge backline in a way that Amond and Semenyo before him couldn’t, his link-up play was excellent and he was always where he needed to be, no matter what was going on around him.
The visitors almost pulled one back just after the hour mark as Reggie Lambe was put through on goal for what would have been his hat-trick but Nick Townsend stayed big to deny any hint of a comeback.
County did very well to control the game from then on in; they took the sting out of the game efficiently and were able to keep the ball much better than in the first half.
The win sends County to 2nd position in the table as Exeter City conceded a 97th-minute equaliser in their game away at Port Vale, leaving them with just a 1-1 draw. County now look ahead to Tuesday night and their game against Macclesfield Town having won three times in a week, scoring eight goals in the process – the amount that Macclesfield conceded to West Ham in the Carabao Cup. I’ll see you there!
Man of the Match: Jamille Matt (Honourable mention for Tyreeq Bakinson, who was fantastic in the middle of the park)
Attendance: 3,104 (111 Cambridge)
As always, I will be live-tweeting coverage of the Exiles home game against Macclesfield Town on Tuesday night; give me a follow on @DanielFrazer7 for updates.