Newport County 2, Crawley Town 1
Skipper Jimmy Smith scored his fifth goal of the season but Reds succumbed to their first League Two defeat of 2018 in South Wales.
Play-off chasing Newport County struck twice in four minutes before the break through Padraig Amond and Micky Demetriou’s penalty to establish a 2-0 lead, having also hit the woodwork twice in the first period.
The second half was a different story though. Smith volleyed home in the 48th minute and County’s Joe Day was the busier keeper thereafter, producing a spectacular save to deny substitute Aryan Tajbakhsh. But despite plenty of pressure Reds could not find an equaliser and must regroup now ahead of another tough test on Tuesday at second-placed Notts County.
Harry Kewell had to make two enforced changes to the side with Dannie Bulman and Mark Randall ruled out by injury. Joe McNerney and Moussa Sanoh came into the starting XI.
With a big home crowd behind them Newport got on the front foot early on. They looked to get the ball forward as quickly as possible and play off Frank Nouble, the former West Ham striker whose physicality gave them a great outlet.
Reds were twice saved by the woodwork before County struck twice in four minutes just before half-time. Amond hit the underside of the bar in the 13th minute after a neat turn and shot and in the 38th minute Robbie Willmott struck a great effort from the right-hand side of the box which beat Glenn Morris but came back off the far post.
It wasn’t all one-way traffic. When they could get the ball down and put some moves together Reds threatened with Moussa Sanoh twice going close. His early drive forced a save out of Day and he had Crawley’s best effort of the first half in the 36th minute. Lewis Young did well to get to the bye-line but, under pressure from a defender, the Dutchman stabbed the ball wide from inside the six-yard box.
With five minutes of the half remaining Reds would have been happy with how the game had gone but their good work was undone by two mistakes which both led to County goals.
In the 40th minute McNerney allowed Ben White’s cross from the left to bounce over his head and Amond did superbly to guide his header past Morris inside the far post.
Then a minute before the break Nouble out-muscled McNerney and broke forward before finding Josh Sheehan, who was brought down just inside the box by Josh Lelan. It was a misjudgement by the defender, compounded when Demetriou, who got the winner in Reds' last visit to Rodney Parade in April, drove the resultant penalty low into the bottom corner, giving Morris no chance and making it 2-0.
Sanoh and McNerney were replaced by Thomas Verheydt and Aryan Tajbakhsh at the break with Yorwerth dropping into central defence in a 4-5-1 and within three minutes of the re-start Crawley pulled one back.
Day dropped Jordan Roberts’ cross under pressure from Verheydt and Smith’s volley beat Scott Bennett’s efforts to keep it out on the line. It was just the boost Reds needed although they nearly conceded again when untidy defending left Morris exposed by a shot from Amond which the wrong-footed keeper was grateful to see hit the outside of his left-hand post.
It was in truth the only real alarm Crawley had in the second half. Reds handled the Nouble-Amond threat a lot better and began to dominate possession and use it much better.
Mark Connolly and Nouble both needed extensive treatment after contesting a bone-shuddering 50-50 – a typically combative challenge by the Reds’ defender who recovered to glance a header from Roberts’ 73rd-minute free kick past Day, only for his celebrations to be cut short by an offside flag.
The home side were not playing with the intensity they’d produced in the first half and needed Day to produce a superb save diving to his left to keep out Tajbakhsh’s well struck drive from outside the box.
Going into the last ten minutes Reds sensed they could still get something. They looked the fitter side but County battened down the hatches to secure three points raucously acclaimed by their fans.
Reds: Morris; Lelan, Connolly, McNerney (sub: Tajbakhsh 45), Evina; Yorwerth; Young (Camara 83), Smith, Sanoh (sub: Verheydt 45); Roberts, Boldewijn. Unused subs: Mersin, Djalo, Clifford, Doherty.
Attendance: 5741 (89 away)
Pictured: Jimmy Smith scores his fifth goal of the season early in the second half