Newport 2 Pompey 3: Neil Allen's match report

On moments like this seasons can change.

Monday, 26th December 2016, 7:55 pm
Updated Thursday, 29th December 2016, 3:48 pm
Enda Stevens got Pompey level at Newport before the late winner. Picture: Neil Allen

Nursing a two-goal deficit after 51 minutes against League Two’s bottom club, it was heading for a bleak Christmas for Pompey followers.

In particular Paul Cook, a manager under increasing pressure from some elements of disillusioned Blues support who have lost faith.

Newport County had been presented with the lead through Josh Sheehan and Rhys Healey, despite barely threatening the visitors.

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And a Pompey side purportedly capable of mounting a promotion challenge were facing a potentially-destructive loss in their ongoing ambitions.

However, their remains heart in this team, a strong desire to succeed, and the final result was a 3-2 triumph.

For all the criticism heading towards Cook and his side over a loss, there should be credit for having turned the game on its head for victory.

Irrespective of the appalling pitch, often atrocious football spectacle and change of Pompey style to combat such challenges, they triumphed.

Danny Rose converted Gareth Evans’ cross, although when Kal Naismith missed from the penalty spot they were still 2-1 down.

It took Enda Stevens’ first goal for the club in his 75th appearance to level matters on 80 minutes and Pompey were roaring.

Kal Naismith, making a rare first-team start in the league, completed the comeback, his free-kick finding a way into the net three minutes from time.

A victory when there appeared to be defeat, a boost for Cook when the supporter doubts were multiplying.

That is now five points off the top three and an unbeaten league away record stretching three months.

Such is the fine line of football, Pompey head to Yeovil with increasing confidence of fulfilling their promotion prophesy.

Cook made two changes for the trip to Rodney Parade, intriguingly also changing the favoured 4-2-3-1 system.

As anticipated, Gary Roberts was left out of the squad as he seeks to recover his confidence and unearth the form which has lapsed in recent weeks.

That decision enabled Kal Naismith to receive a well-deserved recall to a league starting line-up for the first time since October 1 against Doncaster.

With Cook introducing the 4-4-2, Noel Hunt was granted a maiden League Two start for the Blues following his summer arrival from Southend United.

He slotted alongside Michael Smith in attack, having received the nod ahead of Conor Chaplin, while Curtis Main remains injured.

Boxing Day was the occasion of Hunt’s 34th birthday, an exact date he shares with team-mate Carl Baker.

As for the bench, fit-again Jack Whatmough replaced Tom Davies as Pompey’s central-defensive back-up.

Meanwhile, there was a rare bench inclusion for Adam Buxton, making only his fourth league squad for the Blues in the league.

On seven minutes, Ben Tozer won a free-kick down the right following Naismith’s challenge, but David Forde easily claimed Josh Sheehan’s delivery.

Smith should have broken the deadlock on eight minutes following excellent work down the left.

Naismith’s backheel put in Enda Stevens and his low cross by the byline was met by Smith at the far post, yet somehow the striker put it wide from three yards out.

Inevitably, the pitch was proving difficult to play football on and, on 14 minutes, when Stevens hit a ball from his own half, Hunt rose to plant a header from just inside the box over the bar.

Yet it was Newport who opened the scoring on 25 minutes through Sheehan’s free-kick.

Christian Burgess was called for nudging Healey and, from the resulting dead ball, the Newport midfielder fired home a 25-yard shot which beat Forde to his right.

The visitors responded with Naismith crashing in a shot which deflected to Rose and his half-volley was hooked clear by Jennison Myrie-Williams from under his own crossbar.

Then Stevens put in a cross from the left which Scot Bennett almost put past his own keeper in attempts to clear, the ball instead looping over the bar.

On 37 minutes, Naismith’s free-kick from the right fell to Burgess inside the box and he spun and drilled a right-foot shot narrowly wide of the post.

On the stroke of half-time, Stevens’ deflected left-foot shot was destined for the net, until Bennett appeared from nowhere to hack it off the line.

There were no substitutions at the break and within minutes of the restart Smith had a great chance to level.

Doyle lofted in a deep ball which put Smith free down the right, yet his attempted angled half-volley was scuffed and the moment had gone.

Burgess became the first Pompey player to be booked when he fouled a furious Healey in the 51st minute – leading to the second goal.

When the free-kick was not cleared, Sheehan’s shot was parried and there was Healey to blast the ball home from close range.

Within five minutes the Blues had pulled one back after Evans had been put through down the right.

The full-back took a touch before pulling the ball back where Rose steered a first-time shot past Day.

Pompey were in the ascendancy and Baker picked up the ball down the right and clipped in a cross towards the far post where Naismith was bundled over amid a number of bodies.

The Scot took the spot kick himself, only to clear the bar with a left-footed shot to deprive Pompey from what would have been a swift leveller.

Cook made his first change on 74 minutes, with Baker replaced by Chaplin.

Naismith had the Blues’ next goal opportunity when he surged forwards with the ball before drilling a 25-yard shot which Day gathered at the second opportunity.

The Blues did, however, have their equaliser on 80 minutes.

Rose threaded through a pass down the left channel and Stevens took a touch before crashing the ball high into the net.

The visitors then had strong appeals for a penalty turned away when Evans appeared to be clipped as he raced onto Smith’s pass, but nothing was given.

Pompey had their lead on 87 minutes, however, with Naismith at the heart of it.

The winger swung in a free-kick from the right and it somehow found its way in at the far post, with Chaplin appearing to claim it.

Regardless, it proved to be the winner as Pompey overcame a key test to close the gap on the top three.