O’Connor red card takes gloss off routine win

Report by Mark Vickery at Rodney Parade

Newport County 2 (O’Connor 26, Jones 45)
Stevenage 0

Attendance: 2,976

Newport County DDLDWW
Stevenage DdWLLD

County will need to adjust their game with Chris Zebroski suspended and look to compete and pass through Stevenage

Cold, sunny light breeze pitch maintained good condition after recent heavy rain.

Matched opposition abrasive nature and kept focussed to play the more cohesive football

Second County goal on the stroke of half time gave some breathing space

County just one enforced change with Chris Zebroski suspended, Shaun Jeffers made only his second starting appearance since the away win at Portsmouth at the end of August. Stevenage started the better with some combative challenges forcing County to defend deep and gained a free kick in decent position on 2 minutes on the right side of the area. Whelpdale swung in a decent delivery which sat up in the crowded area but Henry glanced his header wide of the left post from 8 yards. On 4 minutes, Stevenage gained a corner on the left side which Whelpdale delivered deep towards the unmarked Wells who saw his header cleared off the line by Jackson. County eased their way into the game creating some decent moves across the face of the Stevenage area and they worked the channels well forcing some throws in which gave Stevenage some anxious moments. The game was untidy on times with several late or cynical challenges which the referee failed to pick up on with both Jeffers and O’Connor receiving treatment. Stevenage continued to gamble on breaking up play and flooding forward and it nearly paid dividends on 12 minutes when Lee burst through on the edge of the area only to see his snapshot parried over well by Stephens. County created some good moves from some measures passes using the flanks and were rewarded with a couple of corners. On 16 minutes, a corner from the right side by Sandell was met well by Minshull under pressure from Wells but his header from 10 yards was wide of the left post. County continued to set a good tempo with their passing coaxing Stevenage into some late tackles and they punished them on 26 minutes. Sandell was the architect with a great delivery on the right side of the pitch which Minshull glanced on well and O’Connor stole in with a precise header from 8 yards into the top left corner. Stevenage made efforts to pick up their game but they were let down a lot of the time by poor passing which gave their front pair Beardsley and Barnard little room to manufacture any theat. County continued to look threatening when they got the ball in the final third with Jeffers providing plenty of trickery with the ball at his feet. The game became increasingly scrappy as half time approached but County got the important second goal in the four minutes of injury time from another infringement on Jeffers. Klukowski delivered an excellent free kick into the area which appeared to be glanced on by a Stevenage defender and despite calls for offside Jones had time to pick his spot and rifle low into the right corner from 6 yards.
Stevenage attempted to pick up the pace of their game after the break and chanced their arm with some opportunist first time crosses into the area. The County defence remained resolute despite some important interventions. Stevenage created their best play going through Lee who linked and threaded some good passes and went close on 53 minutes when a vicious cross from a wide position by Walton was scooped over by Beardsley from 8 yards under pressure from Jones. County opted for a more direct approach for a short time and they had a couple of good situations down the middle with O’Connor and Jeffers beating their marker but Stevenage managed to avert the danger with late interventions by keeper Day and covering defender Wells. On 57 minutes, County created a neat move near the left corner from a long throw by Sandell who found O’Connor near the byline. He was alert to play a deft pass inside for Klukowski who made a good supporting run but his low effort from 10 yards went into the side netting. County were forced into a change on 60 minutes with Hughes suffering an injury after a collision in the centre of the pitch. He was replaced by Obeng who went left wing back with Sandell reverting to central defence. County continued to absorb pressure well and pick their holes on the break with Jackson making some forceful runs down the right flank. On 63 minutes, County created a decent opportunity when Jackson drove to the right corner and swung in an excellent cross to the back which Obeng anticipated well with a late run ghosting in behind Wells who did just enough to put him off and the ball flashed wide of the left post. Stevenage made a double substitution minutes later with Walton and Beardsley being replaced by Jebb and Brunt. County continued to play the better football forcing further corners from their pressure which Stevenage managed to hook clear. Stevenage gambled pushed men forward in the final fifteen minutes but County were in no mood for charity. Their best chance arguably fell to McAllister on 75 minutes with a snapshot inside the box which was well blocked by Yakubu. County made another change soon after with Byrne coming into tighten up the midfield replacing Jeffers who was given a warm reception leaving the pitch. County worked hard to deny Stevenage space in the final ten minutes and a number of overplayed passes gave the substitutions little to feed off. County had a valid looking appeal for a penalty on 86 minutes when a corner from Sandell on the right side caused problems for Stevenage clearing effectively and as the ball sat up Minshull appeared to take a kick in the head but the referee ignored the protests. Brunt was then booked for dissent with frustration beginning to mount for Stevenage but although they kept plugging away, County kept them at arms-length. The result was somewhat soured in injury time when O’Connor appeared to lash out at Wells with a challenge near the touchline and the referee issued a straight red card

Stephens (7) — made a good instinctive save first half and several routine collections. Kicked well in general
Hughes (7) — dealt well with the aerial duals and saw the ball early. Distributed accurately under pressure before taking a knock
Jackson (8) — always had the better of his opposite full back. Drove forward with conviction and cut back some decent crosses from tight spots
Yakubu (7) — strong in the air, made some good tackles and interventions. Offered plenty of presence and concern at set pieces
Jones (8) — was always alert to the danger in the final third. Stifled a lot of their threat and made some important blocks and well timed interventions
Sandell (7) — had plenty of boldness to push on and force moves down the flanks but well tracked. Made up for it with several excellent set pieces
Klukowski (6) — worked hard, did a lot of running and good support play but lacked robustness and impact needed in physical challenges
Porter (7) — dogged tracking danger well with several well timed tackles. Did his best to pick holes with passes which were effective when he did it quickly
Minshull (6) — did well from set pieces and worked hard around the pitch seizing possession well. did best he kept his passing simple
O’Connor (7) — unnecessary red card soured his game. worked tenaciously to close down and unsettle defenders and took his chance well
Jeffers (8) — looked sharp, was alive to the loose ball and was a threat with ball at his feet. Unprotected by the referee but kept coming back for more

Strengths — they couldn’t really sustain the spells of pressure they had which largely came from flooding men forward from deep. Opportunist at best
Weaknesses — defenders kicked the ball anywhere when pressed. Over reliant on direct approach and couldn’t put more than five passes together
Opportunities — they tried to match County down the flanks and pushed them back more second half with more tempo to their game but often left vulnerable
Threats — Lee offered the most guile and threat from shooting. Wells from set pieces in the air and McAllister with shots from distance

B Malone (6) — reading of the game was poor often not seeing advantage and let a lot of the crude physical antics go unpunished

Shaun Jeffers — was kicked time after time, won several fouls and worked Stevenage defenders well turning them with ease. Deserved a goal for his efforts

County were not as pretty in their approach play today but more importantly they stood firm against the physical confrontational tactics Stevenage were only too happy to employ and even though the opening goal gave County a good platform they had the appetite to look for more goals. County used their flanks well and created some of their most effective approach play attacking from deep and you always felt with one good ball they wood get in behind. With a better final ball into the box from crosses, County would have added more goals today, but it was important that they defended from the front with Jeffers and O’Connor closing the defender down into mistakes. County can visit Luton with confidence but they need the same work ethic and will need to defend their channels better and not offer the luxury of space inviting too many crosses on their last visit. However, Zebroski will return to make up for the O’Connor suspension which will give them a different dimension up front.