oals from Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond were enough to see Newport County into the fourth round of the Emirates FA Cup at the expense of Premier League side Leicester City.
A game which captivated the 6,000-strong sell out crowd burst into life within just four minutes as Joe Day, one of the heroes from last year’s Cup run, was called into action to tip Rachid Ghezzai’s effort over the bar. He would deny Gezzai again in the opening stages, and this lack of ability to capitalise on chances would prove Leicester undoing.
2016’s Premier League champions made a raft of changes for this game, including hitman Jamie Vardy not being included at all. One of the other changes saw Wes Morgan bought back into the side; it was he who saw Jamille Matt rise above him to expertly dispatch Robbie Willmott’s excellent centre after just 10 minutes, his 14th goal of the season.
The defensive line has come under a lot of scrutiny in recent times - leaking goals leading to just one point out of 15 will do that – but the way they put their bodies on the line to protect this shock lead was nothing short of admirable. Shinji Okazaki had arguably the biggest chance in the first half to level for Leicester after getting onto the end of a whipped cross from the right but Mickey Demetriou was perfectly placed to get the ball away with the assistance of Joe Day.
In an end-to-end first half, Matt Dolan saw a rocketed effort saved by Danny Ward as well as further half chances for Jamille Matt and Antoine Semenyo. All in all, the home side had more than matched the side three leagues above them in the football pyramid and we’re good value for their half-time lead.
The introduction of James Maddison at half time certainly gave the visitors more impetus going forward and later on, so did Demarai Gray. In a half where most of the play was in the Newport half of the field, Marc Albrighton looked to have had the best chance at levelling the scores as his whipped effort crashed away off the top of the crossbar. At this point, coupled with more heroic defending, it seemed as if the planets had aligned and County would see out a 1-0 victory. Alas, not.
With just seven minutes of normal time remaining, Joe Day did brilliantly once more to deny a header from Kelechi Iheanacho but the ball fell to Ghezzai on the edge of the box who lashed into the top corner to break County hearts. All that work undone in a single swipe of a boot.
It could be forgiven for assuming that heads would subsequently drop and the result get worse for County, but on this day, they were having none of it. Just two minutes later, top scorer Padraig Amond was given the opportunity to net the winner from the penalty spot.
Debutant Vashon Neufville had a relatively quiet game at left wing-back, which was more than forgivable when considering the quality of opposition he faced. But it was his cross that Marc Albrighton, for reasons known only to him, handled inside the box and referee Christopher Kavanagh had no hesitation in pointing to the spot. Amond duly did the honours, sending ‘keeper Ward the wrong way in doing so. Cue wild celebrations from the fans once more.
The final few moments were tense in the stands but in truth, County were able to see the game out with relative ease; neither long range strike from Gray or Maddison were good enough to beat Joe Day and in fact, it was Amond at the other end who was played through but his experienced head knew it was better to just protect the ball.
At the final whistle, the crowd erupted for the umpteenth time safe in the knowledge that they will be alongside sides including Manchester United, Arsenal and Chelsea in the bag for the fourth round of the biggest and best Cup competition in the world – again.
Man of the Match: Fraser Franks
Joe Day 9 – Fantastic. Kept out shot after shot and really excelled himself with early effort from Ghezzai.
Tyler Forbes 8 – Showed critics that he can operate in both halves of the field. Looked eager to get forwards at every opportunity while remaining solid throughout. Subbed.
Mickey Demetriou 8 – Blocked everything he could get close to; never looked flustered and never sought to do anything overly clever.
Fraser Franks 9 – Sliced one clearance but otherwise on the money. Won everything in the air by a distance and kept Iheanacho under wraps brilliantly. Really rose to the occasion of being named Captain. Man of the Match.
Vashon Neufville 7 – Nervy opening but grew into the game as it went on. Gave generally little but it was his cross that led to the late penalty so his name should equally be written in County legend.
Robbie Willmott 7 – Perfect cross for Matt’s goal and was generally a nuisance when going forwards.
Matt Dolan 7 – Terrier in the heart of the midfield; looked accomplished on the ball and could’ve doubled the lead with his pinpoint free kick. Subbed.
Scot Bennett 7 – Textbook utility man performance; up for the battle and rarely put a foot out of place.
Antoine Semenyo 8 – Arguably his most mature performance in a County shirt; he knew when to push forward and when to hold play up. Worked well with debutant Neufville down the left.
Jamille Matt 8 – Involved in a fascinating tussle with Wes Morgan and emerged on top. Cleared his man to get his goal and looked to defend from the front when he needed to. Subbed.
Padraig Amond 8 – Had to work hard to impose himself on the game where Matt was the target man and wingers employed more but did so in typical workmanlike fashion. Was cool and calm when he needed to be from the spot.
David Pipe 7 – Typically battling and got vital blocks in where needed. Filled in well for Tyler Forbes
Tyreeq Bakinson 7 – Ran the ball well when he came on; his long limbs enabled swift pitch coverage as County looked to see the game out.
Mark O’Brien 6 – Didn’t have time to make a large difference but slotted straight into the no-frills, no-nonsense defensive showing.
Attendance: 6,705 (1,022 away)