County rue missed opportunities

Report by Mark Vickery at St James Park
Exeter City 2 (Wheeler 77, Harley 90 pen)
Newport County 0

Attendance: 4,478

Newport County LDWdWD
Exeter City WWdWDW

Warm day so important County need to keep the ball and deny Exeter space in the final third.

Warm, cleat spells little breeze pitch looked in excellent condition

Good shape, defended well in general and punished ultimately for missing chances

Byrne missed chance late in the game just before they scored


County made some changes to freshen their side after tough encounter against Hartlepool on Good Friday. County mirrored Exeter with a 4–4–2 formation with Miles Storey being sacrificed for Shaun Jeffers and Regan Poole was introduced in defence in place of David Tutonda who was on the bench. County also made a change in midfield with Adam Chapman returning to the fold in place of Lee Minshull who was named as substitute. County started with purpose but Byrne was somewhat harshly booked inside the first two minutes for his first tackle catching McAllister just inside the Exeter half. County continued to be positive down their right channel with Byrne influential in demanding the ball with some low intricate passes. Exeter showed one or two moments of indecision at the back with Ribeiro caught in possession by Jeffers who walked hard to close down and press mistakes. McAllister was forced off on 10 minutes after defending a decent looking cross by Byrne on the right side of the area and he was replaced by Woodman. Exeter were patient in their approach with some direct play into Cummins but were prepared to switch play given the opportunity. County remained focussed defending well with a good shape and continued to probe well on the break with O’Connor and Jeffers working well in tandem. On 15 minutes, Jeffers did well ghosting in behind down the left side of the area and provided a decent deep cross which Byrne latched onto and adjusted well but his shot from 14 yards was well blocked by Moore-Taylor. Exeter were quick coming out with the ball when space was offered and Cummins made some clever runs to stretch the County defence who marshalled the threat well. On 30 minutes, Cummins made a strong run inside from the right corner of the area and hit a low shot from 20 yards which Day did well to beat away. County continued to work the left channel well and he a decent opportunity on 36 minutes when Sandell played a great pass down the left side of the area and O’Connor timed his run to perfection to seize the ball ahead of Davies. Despite being forced wide O’Connor managed a connection from an acute angle but the keeper Hamon made a smart save to parry the ball away. Exeter had a better spell of pressure as half time approached with Harley sitting deep to orchestrate play and pick passes. On 43 minutes, a patient move across the face of the County area invited Holmes to shoot but Day was equal to the effort. County had a great chance to forge ahead on the stroke of half time when they pressed Exeter into a mistake on the left flank and Sandell played a teasing ball forward. This time Klukowksi snatched possession taking the ball into the area and his deft shot clipped the right post and went to safety allowing Exeter off the hook.

County remained disciplined after half time forcing Exeter to go backwards or sideways despite some possession early in the second half. On 50 minutes, County did well breaking up play in midfield with Porter supplying a good pass to Chapman. He played a decent ball for Byrne on the right side of the pitch who opted for a rising shot from distance when he the opportunity to steal further into the area. Exeter kept plugging away playing ball to feet and showing good movement off the ball. On 57 minutes, a patient move down the right side saw Sercombe open up space before he elected to hit a curling effort from 25 yards which flashed wide of the left post. County responded with a couple of decent crosses into the area with Yakubu having a header blocked and another glancing header from 10 yards just clear the bar after a clever overhead by Chapman. County made a change on 66 minutes with hardworking Jeffers being replaced by Zebroski. Exeter responded with a double substitution soon after with Morrison replacing Cummins and Wheeler going right side in place of Nicholls. County kept plugging away with Zebroski offering some presence on the right flank. A pivotal followed on 73 minutes when Zebroski was fouled deep inside the Exeter half. Chapman took a quick free kick to play in Byrne which caught Exeter napping but the goal at his mercy, Byrne saw his low shot saved by the keeper Hamons legs. Byrne was seeing a lot of the ball but a tired looking pass on 76 minutes allowing Exeter to intercept and break forward from deep. Harley was quick to play a pass out wide for Wheeler and he had the pace to forge his way goalside of Sandell and into the area before blasting a low shot which Day could only half save and the ball crept into the net. County made their final change on 82 minutes with Storey replacing Byrne with County pushing three up front. Exeter were happy to absorb pressure and clear effectively in the final ten minutes but were given an opportunity to kill the game on 88 minutes. County were caught in two minds playing football in the wrong areas on the left side of the pitch and Wheeler needed little encouragement to break forward past the last man Yakubu and coax the defender into an untidy challenge. The referee and linesman consulted before sending off Yakubu and awarding the penalty. Harley blasted the penalty with confidence low into the left corner giving Day no chance. Minshull was introduced for Chapman in injury time but County huffed and puffed allowing Exeter to revitalize their play-off hopes.

Day (6) — thought he should have done better with their first goal at least parrying the shot. Kicked well under pressure and distributed effectively
Poole (6) — did a reasonable job deputising on the right side of central defence but less comfortable at full back timing challenges
Sandell (7) — made some well-timed challenges that he had to get right when exposed. Passed well and aside from their goal let little goalside.
Jones (7) — marked well, was strong dealing with the aerial duals and cleared strongly when turned brushing off challenges
Yakubu (6) — dominated in the air and read the danger well keeping his position. Got caught out once and punished getting wrong side of the man
Klukowski (5) — could be a key player in the final games but needs to be playing more closer to the front men to be effective. One decent chance went begging
Chapman (7) — saw a lot of the ball first half and was comfortable in possession distributed well despite no real aerial outlet picking holes with passes
Porter (6) — made some good tackles first half and was bright with his passes but influenced waivered later in the match and should have been replaced
Byrne (6) — recovered pretty well after early booking and provided a good outlet and some inviting crosses. should have scored late in match
O’Connor (6) — worked defenders well in the first half, made some clever runs and sharp off the last man. Faded early in the second half being restricted on shots
Jeffers (6) — got amongst defenders and despite not getting his own way unsettled them especially in the first half. needs to get a quicker shot in and be bolder.

Strengths — they were composed and comfortable in possession and competed well not allowing County to rest.
Weaknesses — defenders often casual and looked for the extra touch trying to play. overplayed on times losing possession in the middle
Opportunities — they switched play about well, attacked the right channel primarily and after Jeffers came off had a free role down the right side.
Threats — Cummins had presence in and around the box, Sercombe eye for a shot and Wheeler direct running late in the game.

G Ward (7) — took the stricter approach allowing play to flow after giving out several warnings

Moore-Taylor (Exeter defender 15) — gave little away, read game well, comfortable with ball at feet and made some important interventions to clear

County have taken one point over the Easter Weekend and it could possibly have been six and probably should have been four. County had a good defensive shape about them today and made Exeter work overtime to prise openings and the longer the game went on, you felt County could nick the game with Exeter getting increasingly desperate for a result. The difference today was ultimately in the finishing because if Byrne, O’Connor or Klukowski had taken one of their clear-cut chances, Exeter would have been under pressure. Jeffers had a decent game but is probably more effective coming off the bench when able to give Sandell better protection later in matches. Today after he was replaced, Exeter employed Wheeler who had the opportunity and freedom to attack space. County did a lot right today and need to keep positive and focussed in the remaining matches. Bury will offer different challenges so it will be important County stand up to their physical play, remain disciplined and punch holes against their defence much as they did in the match at Gigg Line.

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