United travelled to the frozen wastes of South Wales to face a high flying Newport County side who were looking to close the gap on the top three sides who were all in FA Cup action. The same starting line-up that had performed so well at Mansfield the previous week were called on again, with Adrian Patulea and Elliott Buchanan replacing Jack Pattison and Charlie Wassmer on the bench.
The pitch had been largely cleared of the snow which fell in South Wales on Friday afternoon, leaving a hard difficult surface which was never going to suit United’s passing game seen in recent weeks. The home side were soon into their stride though, with Darryl Knights setting up former United loanee Ben Wright as early as the third minute, but Bulmer made a comfortable save. The warning to the United defence went unheeded in the fifth minute, when Wright this time turned provider finding Knights with too much time and space on County’s left, and his low curled shot left Bulmer with no chance at his left hand post. Almost immediately, the home side should have added a second, a ball into the United box fell to Danny Rose, his goalward shot left Bulmer wrong footed on the icy surface, but fortunately Tom Cadmore was on hand to clear and save United further early embarrassment.
Newport’s fluid forward line continued to cause no end of problems to the United defence, Knights again collecting from a long free-kick. His ball into the box found Craig Reid but fortunately Bulmer was on hand to collect. County’s next move saw Wright feeding Knights once again, but Reid’s final touch came to nothing. Midway through the half Danny Rose was left unmarked from a County corner, but thankfully for United he put his free header over the bar.
Bulmer was still by far the busier of the two ‘keepers, and he was called upon again in the 34th minute. Alan Goodall’s excellent pass found the busy Reid and his top-corner bound effort was tipped away to his right by the United keeper. The visitors finally created a half-chance a couple of minutes later. Lewis Ferrell’s low cross was met by Jake Hyde, and his looping effort was tipped away by Glyn Thompson in the County goal. On the stroke of half-time Bulmer again saved well low to his left, as Sam Deering’s effort only went to emphasize what a one-sided half the crowd had witnessed.
Wright then began to ask more questions of his former colleagues, shooting wide four minutes after the re-start, and then seeing Bulmer save with his feet on 52 minutes after outpacing the static United defence. Jamie Hand’s long ball on the hour found Hyde but he couldn’t bring the ball under control on the awkward surface, and County comfortably cleared the danger. Reid then tested Bulmer again in the 64th minute, with the United keeper this time palming the ball away to his left.
The move which sealed the points for County wasn’t far away though. Eddie Odhiambo’s pass found an unmarked Reid in acres of space on the County right. Bulmer advanced to try and meet him but Reid skipped past him, and as his cross back into the box caused all sorts of problems which United failed to deal with and Adam Bygrave’s clumsy challenge on Goodall saw referee Atkin point straight to the spot. Reid fired into the bottom right corner, sending Bulmer the wrong way to put the home side 2-0 up.
County missed the opportunity to add a third with fifteen minutes to go. Knights again found an unmarked Reid and he somehow managed to skew his shot wide with only Bulmer to beat. Substitute Robbie Matthews also had an effort just a moment later which Bulmer saved. Knights then fed Matthews, who clipped the ball onto Reid who again shot wide.
Yet it would be United who created the game’s final chances as the home side relaxed. With two minutes to go Hyde cut in from the right and fired in an effort which saw Thompson saving high at his near post. Deep in stoppage time Hyde was still running down the United right, and his ball into the box was swept home by the oncoming Bradley Pritchard to finish with a 2-1 scoreline which flattered a United team who had been comfortably outplayed. To compound United’s miserable display, Lewis Ferrell and Jamie Hand appear to have both collected their fifth bookings of the season, ruling them both out of Tuesday’s scheduled home game with Eastbourne.
Speaking after the game, manager Garry Haylock made no attempt to hide his disappointment at the afternoon’s events. "I said to the players at the end that if we’d have nicked a result it would have been an absolute travesty. Niki-Lee Bulmer stopped it from being a cricket score and we were second best all over the pitch. It’s not happened very often, but I was embarrassed to be manager of that team today. There were no other plusses, we should been beaten by four or five goals. People will look at the scoreline and think ‘maybe they played well again and were just unfortunate’. I’ve always been a believer that you make your own luck and at times we haven’t had it this season, but if we put in performances like that we’ll get beaten every week and deservedly so".
Report by Lee Hermitage.
United Man of the Match: Niki-Lee Bulmer.