Impressive comeback not quite enough for the Jags
By Kierran Groom
…as boys slip to a narrow cup exit
With back to back league wins against Castlethorpe, Newport found themselves drawn away against the very same opponents in the next round of the cup.
Unfortunately, on a poor pitch (and likely the smallest in the league), the boys slipped to defeat by a one goal margin. On another day, they may well have run out winners, but the damage was largely self-inflicted, during a desperately slow start.
From the kick-off, there was a sluggish feel to the Jags play and little of the usual energy and enterprise. All too often, the boys were slow to the ball and slow into the tackle. By contrast, the home side opened up with real desire and were winning virtually every 50/50 ball. So, it was no surprise, after some collectively slack play, that Castlethorpe scored a relatively easy opening goal.
Newport did seem to create a good chance to level, when Dylan put a fine ball through to Theo. However, in a relatively tight call, the Jags striker was judged to be offside. Within a couple of minutes though, Castlethorpe were 2 up after more flimsy play - and, although the best placed Newport supporters put their hands up for offside, appeals fell on deaf ears.
A short time later the deficit was 3, after a poor clearance from a goal-kick - and then almost 4, but with Josh tipping the shot over the bar. Some glum faces on the touchline…
Finally, half way through the first half, the Jags seemingly remembered how to play football and the game became very much more even.
A ball taken up the right was crossed to Dylan on the edge of the box, a defender just getting a foot in before the shot was struck. Theo then picking up another pass, but similarly crowded out before getting a strike away on goal. The greater energy and endeavour finally paid off when Theo, with just the keeper to beat, was tripped running into the area. The ref, well sighted, immediately pointed to the spot and Dylan confidently drove the penalty home.
Both previous contests against the home side had been real end-to-end games and so it was again. One moment, Josh diving to make a finger tip save. Then straight back into the Castlethorpe half, Dylan heading toward goal, but bowled over in a very clumsy challenge. Seo found the right range and accuracy with the resulting free-kick, which looked to be going in until a defender somehow headed off the line.
The Castlethorpe keeper then saving from Dylan after a Seo cross, while Luca joined the attacking action, his well struck shot (from a fine Sonny cross) was safely gathered in by the keeper. However, a further breakthrough at last came when Dylan put in a fast moving low cross from the right, Seo connecting to guide the ball into the bottom corner. 3-2 and very much game on…
As the attacks continued and with great encouragement from the away support, there was genuine expectation that a 3rd goal was coming. The Jags very much in the ascendancy and Dylan going closest with a long range strike just wide. It was therefore against the run of play when Castlethorpe scored a 4th, touching in from a well struck corner. Frustratingly, an entirely unnecessary corner and, in hindsight, a pivotal moment conceding another before half-time.
Resuming their assault on the Castlethorpe goal, more of the boys were pressing forward. At the same time, perhaps reflecting the increasing Jags pressure, the frequency of clumsy challenges was growing and, on two occasions, the official took home players aside, one after a particularly late challenge on Roman.
Continued fine runs from Harry, Leo and Theo, before another foul, Seo brought down on the left. Getting up to take the resulting free-kick, for the second time, Seo’s well placed dead-ball strike was cleared off the line. Time for one final attack before the half-time whistle, which saw Leo shoot inches wide of the post. So, at the half way point 4-2, when it had so much looked like closing out 3-3.
Compared with the start to the 1st half, the Jags were unrecognisable going into the 2nd. Back was the passing football and everything looking much more secure. Sam, having already moved further back, seemed to have things well under control. Roman very assured to the left, while Billy was certainly owning the right side of the pitch - his defensive tackles and clearances all sound.
By contrast, Castlethorpe were increasingly switching to high balls. These proved additionally problematic, the uneven ground causing the ball to drop with wildly random bounces, acting more like a rugby ball. With the Jags pressing, the home side also sought (quite understandably) to use their overall larger physiques to impose themselves - though, as usual, Alex showing that he and the other boys were up for the challenge.
Playing well, Newport were again coming close, Harry hitting post and with Dylan picking up the rebound only to hit the very same post again. This shortly followed by the Castlethorpe keeper saving well from Dylan’s on target shot.
So, it was again a blow when the home team scored a 5th. What seemed to be a long range speculatively shot swerved in the air and, although Tom followed the movement well and got his hands to it, there was power enough for it to creep over the line.
Now looking a lost cause, Jags nevertheless pressed forward again. Theo went just over the bar from a Leo corner. Henry executed another of his very quick-footed turns and was on his way, before falling to a challenge which elicited another word from the official. After a further infringement, the Jags were awarded a 3rd "in-range" free-kick. This time, Seo’s strike just kissed the bar. Dylan then also fired just over the bar, after picking up a cross from Leo.
On the cramped pitch, very much more 9 than 11 aside, there was little room to play expansive football - and it inevitably led to more close quarter tussles and an exemplary case of the boys having to cope with a bigger more physical team. Despite the 3 goal deficit, the Jags were outplaying the home team in terms of the quality of their football and credit that heads did not drop.
Now in the final quarter, Seo broke out of defence on the left and released the ball down the line to Harry. However, the ball gone, Seo was brought down with an extremely late challenge. Play was stopped, with the Newport coach quickly to the scene and the Jags player subsequently having to leave the pitch. Before restarting the match, the referee called the offending player over and issued a straight red card.
The incident seemed to spur the Jags on even more. Henry, again so very busy, almost saw reward as his attempt went just over the bar. With the Jags cranking up the pressure and finding more space, Dylan added a 3rd to the Newport tally and then a 4th. At 5-4, it was near one-way traffic and frustrating for the Jags as several times, balls picked up by the Castlethorpe defence were frantically cleared into the neighbouring field.
Sadly for the boys, the clock finally ran out before they could secure what looked like an increasingly possible 5th.
Whatever the other observations, the contrasting styles, the pitch, the physicality - the reality is that the damage was done in the first 15 minutes, when the Jags were still in first gear and the home team duly took full advantage of lapses to bag 3 fairly easy goals. Good wishes then to Castlethorpe (who over 3 games have proved dangerous opponents) with their future cup run…
An overall fine performance for 3 of the 4 quarters and almost a sensational come-back, but a reminder for the boys that that the high standards they normally display have to be in place from the first whistle.
Man of the Match went to Sam who, dropping back early in the 1st half, had a really solid game, making many well needed clearances from the back and coping as well as any player on the pitch with the awkward bouncing ball. Always reliable, with consistently good performances, MOTM was well merited recognition from the coaching team.
In a nice touch, the referee (who by common consent had an excellent game) came over to the Newport bench after the match and, saying that he knew the boys were playing up a year, complimented the team on the quality of their football, spirit and determination against bigger position.
The costly first 15 mins will likely prove a lesson well learned as the Jags return to title chasing action in the league.