adraig Amond’s late equaliser ensured that Newport County remain level with Mansfield Town heading into the second leg of their League Two play-off tie on Sunday as they bid farewell to Rodney Parade for this season with a 1-1 draw.
Despite having creative midfielder Joss Labadie back in the squad, Mike Flynn resisted the urge to shuffle his pack for County’s first appearance on Sky Sports, opting to stick with the same eleven that started the final game of the regular season at Morecambe on Saturday.
He may have regretted that decision as it was the Stags who opened the game far better than their hosts. They wanted the ball more and always looked to do something with it. And so it was of little surprise when after just 12 minutes, they were the ones to break the deadlock. A swift counter attack covered the middle third with a singe pass and CJ Hamilton was given the freedom to pick his spot from a tight angle, high into the net past the helpless Joe Day.
Chances were few and far between from then on; Mansfield’s Jacob Mellis had the opportunity to double Mansfield’s lead but after getting himself in on goal decided against taking another touch and went for power instead; his shot left the ground. At the other end, a whipped-in Matt Dolan free kick was flicked on by Scot Bennett at the near post and when the majority of the ground thought Jamille Matt had scored, Stags’ goalkeeper Conrad Logan somehow scooped the ball clear to keep the score at half time 0-0.
For all of County’s huff and puff, they were being constantly outmuscled by a Mansfield side who, while not playing much more football than they did on their last visit, were visibly up for this one and handled the pitch much better than last time. One could even argue that’s all Mansfield wanted to achieve; get their goal and then just stop County playing football…
Equally frustrating for County was the linesman intervening in what could have been a promising moment from a free kick on the edge of the box…when he flagged for offside directly from a throw in. Let that sink in for a moment…
In a frantic opening five minutes to the second half, Mansfield should have made it 2-0 And County should have levelled. Tyler Walker has 25 goals so far this season but he should have made it 26 when he broke through the middle and rounded Joe Day but his eventual effort was brilliantly cleared off the line. Straight up the other end, Matt Dolan swung a ball into the centre where Jamille Matt did brilliantly to nod the ball down for Padraig Amond but his Close-range effort was well smothered by Logan.
County finally had their moment with 20 minutes left, but the linesman’s flag would deny them. Jamille Matt did brilliantly to chest down a long ball, turn and shoot but after Logan saved his effort, Robbie Willmott was on hand to tap in but the officials flag was straight up to deny him the equaliser. Jacob Mellis would test Joe Day with a deflected effort shortly after but Day, as he’s been so often this season, was equal to it.
But with ten minutes left, County would find parity. As the ball was pumped long once more, Jamille Matt flicked it on again and where it seemed impossible, Ade Azeez burned every bit of pace he possesses to get in ahead of goalkeeper Logan, who could do nothing but bring him down for a penalty. Padraig Amond stepped up, placed it to Logan’s right…it was saved! But it was parried back into his path and the Irishman made no mistake second time round. A goal that County richly deserved as on the balance of play, they were the only side trying to play football…
A scrappy game of football, largely due to how Mansfield set out to play. But the late goal from Amond ensures that County are very much in the contest and will go to the One Call Ground on Sunday believing that their path to Wembley is still very much lit up. The travelling Amber Army will be in full voice and can very much look forward to another intriguing game.
Man of the Match: Jamille Matt
Player Ratings: Day 6, Butler 5, Willmott 6, Dolan 6 (Azeez 6), Amond 6 (Crofts 5), Matt 7, Sheehan 6, Bennett 6 (Labadie 6), O’Brien (C) 5, Poole 5, Demetriou 6
Attendence: 6,045 (286 away)