Watkins scores hat-trick as Exeter City win 4-1 at Newport County
Ollie Watkins saw 2016 out in style as he celebrated turning 21 on December 30 by firing a hat-trick at Rodney Parade as Exeter City beat Newport County 4-1.
The Newton Abbot youngster was given two late birthday presents from Liam McAlinden who set him up with a sight of goal either side of half-time and then he completed what was a memorable victory for City as he rounded keeper Joe Day and fired home in stoppage time to complete the hat-trick.
City manager Paul Tisdale made three changes to the side that drew 0-0 with Yeovil Town last time out.
Lee Holmes and Craig Woodman both dropped out completely through injury, while Reuben Reid was only fit enough for a place on the bench.
That meant 20-year-old Conor Riley-Lowe came in at left-back for his ninth appearance of the season, while Joel Grant replaced Holmes on the left-side of the midfield and McAlinden took his place up front.
McAlinden and David Wheeler were lively in the opening minutes as they looked to get on the end of a few long ball played over the top of the home defence – a tactic the Grecians used throughout the game.
However, Newport started to get into the match after the 10-minute mark and as Marlon Jackson chipped a good chance over Christy Pym’s crossbar and Josh Sheehan shot straight at the City keeper following good work by Rhys Healey.
City then had a couple of penalty appeals turned down as McAlinden and Wheeler went over in the area before a long ball over the top of the Grecians backline caused confusion.
Pym was quick off his line but only just managed to block the shot from Healey and as the ball rebounded to Jackson he looked certain to score. However, the 26-year-old midfielder scuffed his shot was booted out of the six-yard box by Moore-Taylor.
There was then a lengthy stoppage in play after Ben Tozer went down in the centre circle having taken a nasty knock to the head.
It was in the time added on to the first half from that injury that City managed to take the lead. McAlinden did well to get on the end of a chipped ball out to the left by Watkins and then delayed his cross to allow the 21-year-old City midfielder, who celebrated his birthday the day before the match, to head home from the edge of the six-yard box.
The second half was only two minutes long when the same combination combined to make it 2-0.
Lloyd James played a superb pass out to the left where some good control and pace got McAlinden away from Newport full-back Jazzi Barnum-Bob.
And the former Wolves frontman then showed the strength and intelligence to hold the ball up before sliding a pass to Watkins who side-footed the ball home from 12 yards.
Three minutes later and it was 3-0 as Grant played Riley-Lowe in down the left and his bouncing cross was hammered in by Wheeler for his seventh goal of the season.
There was then another lengthy stoppage in play as former Grecian and County captain Scot Bennett took a whack on the nose and had to be replaced by Josh O’Hanlon.
County three more and more caution to the wind as the match went on, but they were finding the City defence on top form with the particularly impressive Jordan Moore-Taylor prevent a chance for Healey with 18 minutes to go with a well-timed sliding challenge.
City were also looking dangerous on the counter and Watkins was unfortunate not to get another shot on target on 77 minutes as his effort cannoned off Wheeler and behind for a goal kick.
However, Newport County got a goal back when a cross from the right was floated towards the back post and Sean Rigg outjumped Jack Stacey and placed a header into the far corner of the net.
That set up more pressure in the final 10 minutes of the match and Brown had to be in the right place to block a Tozer effort before the same County player then warmed the gloves of Pym with an angled drive.
However, Watkins completed what was a memorable afternoon for him as City in the fourth minute of injury time raced onto a ball from Simpson as the visitors broke from a corner and rounded Joe Day before firing into the back of the net.
Newport County (4-5-1): Day; Barnum-Bobb, Bennett, Miete, Myrie-Williams; Jackson (Green, 62), Randall, Tozer (Compton, 45), Sheehan, Rigg; Healey. Subs not used: Bittner, Butler, Bignot, Owen-Evans, O’Hanlon.
Exeter City (4-5-1): Pym; Stacey, Brown, Moore-Taylor, Riley-Lowe; Wheeler (Tillson, 80), James, Taylor, Watkins, Grant (Harley, 55); McAlinden (Simpson, 87). Subs not used: Olejnik, Archibald-Henville, Oakley, Reid.
Attendance: 2,663 (500)