hunderbolts from Robbie Willmott and Padraig Amond ensured Newport County safe passage into the fifth round of the FA Cup for just the second time in the club’s history. They will now face the might of Manchester City on 16th February.
County reverted back to what was more like their strongest side for Boro’s visit; Joe Day, Dan Butler, Mark O’Brien, Padraig Amond and Robbie Willmott were all recalled to the first XI. The talk surrounding the game was about focus, more specifically keeping focus on Middlesbrough and not on the dangling carrot that is a potential fifth round tie against Manchester City. It quickly became obvious that this was not just talk…
Action adorned both ends of the pitch in the first ten minutes as, from a direct pass to the edge of the box from a corner, Johnny Howson let fly from distance and his effort beat Joe Day but fortunately for the hosts, also beat the post. Straight up the other end, County carved out their first clear cut opportunity as, from a corner of their own, pinball ensued and Padraig Amond was the closest Amber shirt in attendance. Unfortunately he couldn’t stab it goal wards and Middlesbrough escaped.
Minutes sooner, however, Tony Pulis' side escaped a huge penalty shout after Adam Clayton looked to have handled the ball in the area. Replays showed this was the case yet referee Stuart Attwell immediately crossed his arms to reject the pleas of the home faithful.
Shortly after, County’s steady ascendancy saw Padraig Amond one-on-one with veteran goalkeeper Dimitri Konstantopolous after a Robbie Willmott cross was flicked on at the near post. On another day, such an opportunity would’ve seen the net bulge but the quality better than that of League Two showed through.
Ten minutes before half time, the Irishman was almost the beneficiary of Willmott’s scampering run as he got onto the end of a brilliant cross but his header was straight at Konstantopoulos who made the save.
‘Boro did fashion a half chance as Jordan Hugill was set free to run at the County defence but they held firm, shepherded him out wider than he would have liked and his shot never really troubled Day, even if it did find touch via the foot of the post.
Middlesbrough were not enjoying their trip to South Wales; the heavy rain before kick-off, which would subsequently swirl throughout the game, had made the pitch a lot boggier than they are used to in the Championship. Just moments later, Jamille Matt almost repeated his heroics from the third round; his header, inevitably from a Robbie Willmott cross, landed just on the roof of the net.
For all the chances County created, they missed the target too often and were kept out when it mattered by Konstantopoulos. But just two minutes into the second half, that all changed.
It is fair to say that Robbie Willmott is one of those players that divides opinion; sometimes he’s a world beater, sometimes hardly good enough to lace boots. But the capacity crowd were entirely united in lording praise on the converted wing-back as he carried the ball almost half the length of the mud pool of a pitch before dispatching a curling effort into the top corner to reignite the home support into raptures.
Middlesbrough had little to give after the goal; they would get into the final third and then become largely bereft of ideas. While County took the foot off the gas slightly, they weren’t being made to defend for their lives either; a fact ‘Boro would regret 20 minutes from time.
The second goal would look as simple as you like but came directly from hard work on the training pitch. Robbie Willmott delivered a low corner from the right hand side or Padraig Amond, who found himself in a yard of space by himself and wrapped his foot round the ball, sending it flying beyond the ‘keeper. A second fantastic goal of the game, and on arguably the biggest stage so far, no more than County deserved.
Mike Flynn's side were hardly troubled after the second goal; Middlesbrough continued to toil but just couldn’t create anything of note and Joe Day, who is now father to newborn twins was as much a spectator as the 6,500-strong crowd. As the final whistle went, the scenes on the terraces were as epic as against Leicester in January; delirium from County fans, anger and bemusement from ‘Boro.
While the scoreline says it all, it has to be said that Newport were the better team by lightyears. Man for man, they won each individual battle and did everything with the efficiency of a Swiss watch. County completely outplayed their counterparts of a higher division for the second successive round. Not a single Middlesbrough player can go back to the North East with their head held high; every last one of them were no better than average and they got what they deserved.
More importantly, so did County. A week on Saturday, they will face the Premier League champions for a place in the FA Cup Quarter-Finals.The amazing run continues - surely they can’t do it again….can they?
Man of the Match: Robbie Wilmott
Player Ratings: Day 6, Butler 7, Labadie 7 (Dolan 6), Willmott 8 (Pipe), Amond 7, Matt 6, Bakinson 6, Bennett 7, O’Brien 7, Demetriou 7
Attendance: 6,553 (531 away)
In conclusion, everyone at Newport City Radio would like to extend our congratulations to Joe Day and his wife Lizzie, who welcomed twin girls Sophia Grace and Emelia Lillie into the world during the first half on Tuesday night.