Date: 23rd January 2018 at 10:16pm
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Morecambe were until recently something of a bogey team as far as Newport County are concerned. The three points they won at the Globe Arena just over two years ago were the first they had ever taken off the Shrimps at their sixth time of asking: they had lost all five previous contests home and away. However, they won again in Lancashire last season as well. Since then, they lost September`s fixture there after drawing at home against Morecambe last season in a game which had to be replayed after the original one was abandoned with the Exiles in a winning position. Tonight`s game also had to be re-arranged: the original fixture was scheduled for the same Saturday last month when County came from behind to dump Leeds United out of the FA Cup and earn themselves a glamorous and lucrative home tie against Tottenham Hotspur next Saturday in the Fourth Round.

Apart from beating a Championship side in the Cup, the job that former player Michael Flynn has done at Rodney Parade since being appointed First Team Coach on March 9th 2017 has been simply phenomenal. County seemed dead and buried at the bottom of the EFL when he first took over but they battled their way to secure League Two survival almost literally at the eleventh hour: in injury time of the final game on the last day of the campaign which ended last summer. They are currently one of the form teams in League Two and are currently hovering on the edge of the Play-Off positions in ninth place, having not lost since November. So far this year, they have won all of their games in every competition, three at home; one away. So if Morecambe – fresh from a fairly unlucky defeat at top club Luton last Saturday – were able to head back to northern England with even a single point tonight, they would have pulled-off quite a coup.

With Saturday`s game against Spurs possibly foremost in his mind, Nathan Jones didn`t risk either Captain Joss Labardie or Matty Dolan, who missed their latest win at Crawley four days ago with hamstring problems. Up front, Padraig Amond again lined-up against a former club from which many Shrimps` fans were sad to see him released a couple of years ago. For the visitors, Callum Lang`s late fitness test on his injured ankle was positive enough for him to be named on the bench and Vadaine Oliver was absent for the second game in a row on potential New Father duties.

The match started at quite a brisk pace with both teams trying to get on the front foot but there were no goal attempts for the first ten minutes or so. When the first one arrived, though, it resulted in a goal. Robbie Willmott made good progress for the hosts down the Newport right after fourteen minutes and took what might have been a cross or a shot. The ball seemed to be possibly deflected by Frank Nouble in the Shrimps` penalty area but it found its way to Ben Tozer who poked it past Barry Roche in the visitors` net to put the Exiles one up. Undismayed, Morecambe continued to play positive football and Scot Bennett was shown a yellow card after just 22 minutes for cynically pulling-back Adam Campbell when he was well placed on a counter attack. Max Muller forced Joe Day into his first save of the night after 25 minutes and ten minutes later, Kevin Ellison flicked-on a corner right across the home goal line but his inrushing team-mates were unable to connect with the ball. Padraig Amond for Newport and Michael Rose for Morecambe then both had shots saved within the next five minutes. But a half of relatively few chances ended with the hosts in the lead and with Jim Bentley and his team looking ever more anxiously over their shoulders towards the bottom of the EFL.

Irish midfielder Emmanuel Osadebe made his debut for the Welsh club at the beginning of the second half after being signed this week on loan from Cambridge United. But the opposition had the first attempt of the second period when Adam McGurk`s attempted shot after two minutes of the restart was blocked and cleared by the Newport defence. At the other end, Osadebe`s compatriot Amond tested fellow-countryman Roche with a shot after 48 minutes which didn`t trouble the big Dubliner too badly. Osadebe then attempted to open his account for the Exiles with almost an hour played but his shot went wide of the post. The visiting Manager shuffled his pack with a double substitution after 64 minutes in an attempt to get back into the match. Just four minutes later, Joe Day again did well to turn a long-range shot from Rose away for a corner. But the visitors` endeavour was finally rewarded in the seventy-sixth minute when Day was adjudged to have brought-down Garry Thompson in the Exiles` penalty area by Referee Kevin Johnson. Rose duly stepped-up to take the penalty and sent County`s goalkeeper the wrong way to equalise. Morecambe could have gone ahead after 82 minutes when Kevin Ellison seemed to hit the ball against one of his own players when it fell kindly to him in the penalty area after a corner. At the other end two minutes later, Amond was again denied by the joint efforts of Roche and Steven Old to keep him out. But Big Baz saved his best stop right until the death when he performed a miracle to leap high to his left to keep out a venomous strike from substitute Shawn McCoulsky on the edge of the box with just a minute still scheduled to play. That was the end of the serious chances and – despite five minutes` injury time – the contest ended, probably fairly, all-square.

Because none of the other teams involved in the struggle to avoid relegation from the EFL played tonight, the Shrimps would have remained in nineteenth position in the table even if they had lost. Despite the very welcome point they managed to grind-out, their advantage over the other strugglers at the bottom has contracted a little further though. However, even in the unlikely event that all the sides below them are to win their next games, the worst position the Shrimps could find themselves in would be twenty-second because of their superior points tally over and goal difference to Forest Green Rovers. This is scant consolation but I suspect both the management and we fans would be happy with this if it turned out to be the situation at the end of this season`s campaign: at least an eleventh consecutive season in League Two would be guaranteed. Having said that, their recent performances even in defeat at Mansfield and Luton have been encouraging in at least the sense that they have battled away throughout and never given up. The next match – at the Globe Arena on Saturday – could prove to be pivotal in their 2018 campaign when Charm School drop-out Steve Evans brings his Stags to the Lancashire seaside.

Newport County: 1 Joe Day; 2 David Pipe; 25 Mark O`Brien (C); 28 Mickey Demetriou; 3 Dan Butler; 17 Scot Bennett (Y); 12 Ben Tozer; 31 Josh Sheehan (22 Emmanuel Osadebe 45 minutes); 7 Robbie Willmott (Y); 9 Padraig Amond (39 Paul Hayes 85 mins); 10 Frank Nouble (15 Shawn McCoulsky 73 mins).

Subs not used: 30 James Bittner; 6 Ben White; 19 Craig Reid; 45 Aaron Collins.

Morecambe: 1 Barry Roche; 22 Max Muller; 16 Sam Lavelle; 5 Steven Old; 2 Aaron McGowan; 24 Michael Rose (C); 4 Alex Kenyon; 14 Luke Conlan; Adam Campbell (29 Callum Lang 64 mins); 28 Adam McGurk (7 Garry Thompson 64 mins); 11 Kevin Ellison.

Subs not used: 12 Danijel Nizic; 6 Dean Winnard; 17 Mitchell Lund; 15 Aaron Wildig; 3 Patrick Brough.
Ref: Kevin Johnson