heltenham Town inflicted the first defeat on Newport County in four matches with a 2-1 victory at the Johnny Rocks Stadium. The loss is County’s first against Cheltenham in the Football League and Cheltenham's first home league win of the season.
Cameron Pring was rewarded for his excellent substitute appearance with a starting birth at Whaddon Road, doing so in place of the injured Robbie Willmott while Charlie Cooper was also recalled in place of Matt Dolan.
County also welcomed Mark O’Brien and Andrew Crofts back to the squad after their respective injuries. The latter of these two will be a welcome relief to both himself and the club as he is well respected on and off the pitch; Mike Flynn often referring to him as one of the real leaders in the dressing room.
Former Exile Ben Tozer lined up as captain against his former employers; the former Newcastle United man spent two seasons at Rodney Parade but made the move across the border in the summer and has been transformed into a centre-back under Michael Duff’s tutelage.
A cagey opening saw very little in the way of chances; a well worked corner routine from the hosts resulted in a free shot at goal going way over the bar and Tyrone Barnett put a header way wide but just before the 20-minute mark, the home side deservedly broke the deadlock.
Ryan Broom, by far Cheltenham best player throughout, was allowed the time to cross from the right hand side and among a busy six-yard box, Fraser Franks left the ball – likely thinking that Joe Day was coming to claim it – and thus gave Will Boyle the freedom to nod into the corner of the net. A poor goal to concede from County’s point of view, especially given their trio of consecutive clean sheets accrued from their previous three outings…but not as poor as what came at the end of the half.
Quick build-up play was the main feature of Cheltenham’s first half showing and it was that from which the home side double their lead. Joe Day has been in particularly good form lately but he won’t want to see this one again; Chris Clements’ shot from the edge of the area bounced just in front of him but he spills it right to the feet of Tyrone Barnett who made no mistake from a matter of yards. It could’ve been worse at half time but Luke Varney’s effort didn’t quite curl enough from the home side’s point of view.
2-0 at half time and no doubt Mike Flynn would have been getting into the team for being too slow in their build up play and generally being poor in attack. The Exiles seemed to lack any sort of urgency in the first 45 and we’re too frequently overrun in midfield. Big changes needed to occur at half time.
They came in the form of a double substitution at half time; Crofts and O’Brien coming on for Cooper and Pring. These resulted in an initially brighter start to the half for County which saw half-chances for Jamille Matt and Antoine Semenyo but they still struggled to deal with the confident football being played by the home side.
Cheltenham were quick to press high up the pitch, they were quicker to every 50/50 and always looked threatening going forward. Very rarely would the hosts look to play backwards, often playing a very vibrant, expansive game but also interspersing that with competent passing, something mostly lacking in County’s game.
The afternoon was summed up in the 85h minute when County were given a golden opportunity to mount a comeback. From a corner, Mickey Demetriou was fouled at the back post and referee Alan Young rightly pointed to the spot. The captain picked himself up to take the kick but dragged it wide to the right, having sent goalkeeper Scott Flinders the wrong way.
Antoine Semenyo got onto the end of a flicked header to get a late volleyed consolation just before added time and this was followed by sustained pressure but it has to be said that on the balance of play, Cheltenham were well worth their first home win of the season.
As it will be for the rest of the calendar year as a result of various cup commitments, it is a quick turnaround for County as they host Northampton Town at Rodney Parade on Tuesday night as they look to keep pressure up on the top spots. Here’s hoping this performance is quickly forgotten.
Man of the Match: David Pipe
Player Ratings: Day 4, Pipe 7, Butler 5, Franks 5, Amond 5, Matt 5 (Harris 6), Bakinson 6, Pring 5 (Crofts 6), Demetriou 6, Cooper 4 (O’Brien 6), Semenyo 6
Attendance: 3,672 (936 away)