Under Friday night lights City took on Newport County in what was a perfect example of the football cliché – a game of two halves. The first 45 minutes saw the Welsh side dominate but only reach the interval one goal ahead. They were made to pay for this as City took control in the second half, equalising through Dave Gilroy’s first goal since his summer move from Chippenham Town. So, in the end a 1-1 draw was the fair result.
City made one change from the side that suffered its first defeat of the season at Welling United on Saturday – the fit again Mark McKeever replacing Paul Keddle on the left flank. Unlike recent matches City did not start well and soon the visitors were passing the ball around the Twerton Park pitch with confidence. They had half-hearted penalty appeals waved away when Matt Coupe blocked a Jarman header from a left-side corner. Soon though City began to show they could play neat football themselves and from a corner of their own they wasted a good opening, Chris Holland’s mis-hit shot dropping to Scott Rogers only for the midfielder to lean back and fire the ball high over the bar. A quick throw out by Paul Evans and excellent chasing from Gilroy had the Newport backline panicking shortly afterwards but slowly the Exiles were beginning to get on top. A free-kick again found the head of Jarman, which had Jim Rollo clearing away for a corner from under his own bar. They were stretching City’s defence but it was not breaking and several times swift counter attacks showed that Newport were not having it all their own way – Darren Edwards heading a Lewis Hogg cross just over the bar. On 25 minutes it looked as if Newport had taken the lead, Evans racing past Sekani Simpson and driving the ball across goal where Griffin applied the finishing touch only for a linesman flag to half the celebrations. Within a minute City were denied a goal when the other linesman ruled that Gilroy had used his arm to control the ball before confidently stroking it home. A free-kick was driven wide by Griffin from 20 yards then Holland intercepted an Evans cross with Griffin waiting behind him to pounce. The pressure was beginning to build on City and with just four minutes left in the half they finally yielded, although initially in an unfortunate manner. Lumbering Newport no.9 Alsop’s attempts to shield the ball from Holland clearly ended with him knocking it out of play for a goal kick, but the linesman inexplicably awarded a corner. From this set-piece though City only had themselves to blame as Evans came rushing off his line but failed to claim Bowen’s cross which allowed Hiller to head home. Rogers protests after the goal only earning him a caution. City almost drew level before the beak when an Edwards over-head effort had keeper Thompson scrambling across his goal only for the ball to drop agonisingly wide of the back post.
This narrow miss set the tone for the second half as City looked a much improved side, closing County down quicker and preventing them passing the ball around. A 48th minute Simpson cross was only cleared as far as Hogg but he mis-kicked and Adie Harris’ follow-up cleared the Newport goal. Simpson was getting forward much more and he was looking City’s biggest threat. A lucky deflection off the referee almost put McKeever in on goal, before another neat build-up ended with Jenkins taking the ball off Edwards toe as he lined up a shot. The game was largely being played in the Newport half now, with time and again City winning 50/50 balls. Two such challenges by Hogg and Gilroy saw a poor clearance by Thompson almost give Edwards a sight of an empty goal and then McKeever had a low drive blocked. The equaliser finally arrived on 63 minutes when a tussle between McKeever and Jenkins in the corner ended with a free-kick for City. McKeever’s cross was flicked toward the six-yard box by Harris where Edwards and Gilroy went in, the latter getting the final touch to claim his first strike since signing from Chippenham Town in the summer. Twice more free-kicks from the City no.11 in similar positions created panic in the Newport defence, Rogers and Gilroy only being denied by last-gasp blocks. There looked to be only one winner in the game now and with ten minutes left City created a great opening to claim that victory. Edwards drove forward before laying the ball off to Rogers. He cut inside his marker but from the edge of the box lifted his shot a couple of yards over the bar. A rare break forward by Newport saw Evans cross for an unmarked Hughes to head over the bar as City were almost made to pay for this miss. The Newport substitute also sliced a long-range effort wide in the last minute before the referee brought the entertaining match to an end.
In the end a draw was the right result, given that each side dominated a half and both had a goal disallowed. After the disappointment of the late defeat at Welling a week earlier City will have been pleased with both the performance and end result against one of the pre-season favourites for the Blue Square South title. City will also have been boosted by the crowd of over 1600 – including around 500 from over the border – and will hope that the improved quality of the football on show will encourage a number to return for future games.