Newport City arrested their dismal run of five successive league defeats as they drew against Albion Rovers in what proved to be a heated local derby encounter at Kimberly Park.
The opening twenty minutes proved to be a forgettable affair as the heavy rain did no favours to either side as the game was played on a wet and slippery pitch with several cut-up areas. The only opportunities to note fell to City’s Mark Dunford and Rovers’ Mike Williams who both sent half chances over the bar.
The first threatening opportunity came in the 23rd minute when City skipper Andrew Muscat saw his goal bound header cleared off the line by James Hood following a corner delivery. Nathan Blackie appeared to have been pulled down inside the Rovers area by Craig James six minutes later following a cross by Solomon Taylor St Clair, but the referee waved away the protests for a penalty.
The hosts managed to withstand City’s pressure and took the lead ten minutes before the break when a loose ball on the edge of the area was thumped high into the back of the net by Mike Williams. Rocked by the goal, City struggled to grab hold of the game and were once again left to thank goalkeeper Tom Pass for keeping them in the game. As the first half drew to a close the hosts attacked in numbers as Williams, Adam Carey and Mark Millichip forced Pass into a series of outstanding saves, leaving City lucky to be only one goal down at half time.
Rovers restarted the game brightly and almost doubled their lead early in the second half as Williams and Scott Lewis sent efforts narrowly wide of goal. However City reacted well to the hosts’ pressure and came close to an equaliser on the hour mark when Dunford saw his sliced effort inside the area tipped on to the bar by Rovers keeper Jason Kelly.
The game took a twist in the 75th minute as tempers flared, leading to the hosts being reduced to ten men after Martin Phillips was dismissed for the use of alleged foul language towards the referee. The dismissal initially seemed to spur the Steelmen on as they attacked in numbers, coming close through Joe Ward who sent a couple of efforts wide. Rovers however still posed a threat and came inches away from sealing the game when Pass was forced to tip a free kick strike from John Lillygreen on to the crossbar.
The game took another twist as Rovers struggled to hold their discipline, finding themselves reduced to nine men in the 84th minute following the dismissal of Lewis for the use of alleged foul language towards the referee again. With City holding a two men advantage, they piled on the pressure and came close to levelling in the 85th minute when Patrick Pope saw his header drift narrowly wide over the bar. City were however eventually rewarded for their efforts and equalised three minutes later when a cross into the area was tucked into the back of the net from close range by skipper Andrew Muscat.
The equaliser ensured a frantic finish to the game, with both sides creating opportunities to find a winner. With City pushing high in numbers for a winner, Rovers’ Joe Howells found space to break away clean through on goal but was denied when a last ditch challenge from Matthew Escott diverted the ball wide past the right hand post. The Steelmen continued to push for a winner and came very close in the 90th minute when Ward slipped the ball through to substitute James Hill inside the area, but the striker agonisingly dragged his low shot narrowly wide past the left post. There was still time for one more chance as Francombe broke down the right wing and directed a strike which flew across the face the goal before drifting wide past the left hand post, leaving City to settle for a draw.
Overall City will have mixed feelings over the result. The relief of avoiding defeat will be slightly overshadowed by the regret of not taking full advantage of the numerical advantage in the second half. Nevertheless the draw halted the recent run of defeats and crucially keeps City above neighbours Albion Rovers in the table. The Steelmen will need to build on the draw as they seek to put a miserable start to the league season behind them and climb their way back up the table.
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