ewport County ended a busy week with a hard fought 1-0 victory of Cheltenham on Friday night as a largely forgettable game was settled by a Chris Hussey own goal.
Mike Flynn made just one change from the side that tasted late defeat at Northampton on Tuesday night; that being Ade Azeez coming in for Joss Labadie who missed out with a back problem.
This gave County cause for concern as they were without arguably three of their best ball-playing centre midfielders in Labadie, Dolan and long-term absentee Andrew Crofts. It then fell to Tyreeq Bakinson to fill the box-to-box role, attempting to shield the backline while creating chances for the attacking trio of Amond, Matt and Azeez.
To say the first half was a slow burner doesn’t do justice to the lack of action on show. Both sides worked good areas but we’re ultimately found wanting in the face of either poor finishing or well-marshalled defences who were by far on top. Jamille Matt tamely headed at Scott Flinders early on and Scot Bennett blazed over from the edge of the box but County were equally as poor as their visitors. Cue a round of boos at the half time whistle…
Padraig Amond, who was cut from Mick McCarthy’s Ireland squad earlier this week, seemed to be deployed in an attacking midfield role. Now whether you interpret the formation as 3-4-1-2, 4-3-1-2 or the Christmas tree 4-3-2-1, you don’t put your 21-goal striker at CAM; a point proven 10 minutes into the second half.
County came out playing a much quicker, more fluid brand of football in the second half which bought about a free kick on half way. As the ball came over and subsequently recycled, Amond was able to get himself to the ball, spin on it and lift it delightfully over the onrushing Scott Flinders an into the net via Chris Hussey’s head just in front of goal.
Only Jamille Matt will know how it wasn’t 2-0 ten minutes later as the leggy front man did brilliantly to rob the last defender who was backtracking towards his own goal but in trying to round Scott flinders, the Cheltenham ‘keeper had the time to fall on the ball and keep the deficit to one goal.
An extra dimension was brought to the game with a little over 15 minutes left as Cheltenham defender Will Boyle was given his marching orders by referee Lee Swabey. Matt sought to atone for his earlier blunder by once again robbing the last man and bearing down on goal, only for Boyle to bring him to ground as he did so. It looked as if there was a covering defender which should’ve spared Boyle but Swabey saw fit to send him for an early bath.
County seemed content to sit on their lead and see the game out from that point onwards. While both Matt and Azeez went close, they mostly invited Cheltenham onto them as if to say, “We’ve got the extra man, try and break us down if you can.”
Alas, they couldn’t and with the final whiste, County – temporarily at least – climb up to 11th in the table. The rest of the league will play twice before the Exiles take to the field again; it will be interesting to see if scoreboard pressure is applied or if those scrambling for a top-seven place begin to stutter and leave the door slightly ajar for County’s games in hand.
Man of the Match: Scot Bennett – solid in front of the defence again and his passing was highly efficient.
Player Ratings: Day 6, Butler 6, Willmott 6, Amond 6, Matt 6 (McKirdy 5), Azeez 6, Bakinson 6 (Sheehan 6), Bennett 7, O’Brien 6 (c) (Pipe 6), Poole 6, Demetriou 7
Attendance: 3,192 (242 away)