Exeter City are hoping to sign off 2020 with a bang as they make the short trip to South Wales to face Newport County.
A chance then to look back at City’s trip across the Severn Bridge four years ago, when an Ollie Watkins masterclass stole the headlines and brought the points back to Devon.
Jed Penberthy recalls the action on a boggy day at Rodney Parade.
Newport County 1-4 Exeter City, Sky Bet League Two,
Rodney Parade, New Year’s Eve 2016.
Exeter crossed the border unbeaten in five, having turned their early season misfortunes around. Tisdale’s men would have been in good moods as they saw their Welsh opponents lounging at the foot of the league table.
As such, three alterations were made from the Boxing Day stalemate with Yeovil Town, as Liam McAlinden, Joel Grant and Connor Riley Lowe all featured in the starting line-up.
The Grecian’s confident swagger could have taken a hit in the early stages. Josh Sheehan tested the gloves of Christy Pym as Mark Randall’s pull back fell nicely for the midfielder, who really should have done better.
Despite a quiet first half, though the poor quality of the winter rugby pitch maybe to blame, Exeter notched in front in injury time.
Ollie Watkins picked the ball up on the halfway line and found McAlinden on the charge down the left. Patient hold up play from the striker allowed Watkins to complete his fifty yard sprint to head the ball beyond Joe Day to put City one up.
Grecians fans barely had time to take their seats for the second half before they were up celebrating again.
This time Jake Taylor found McAlinden with a long ball on 47 minutes. After marching into the Newport box, Mac chopped back past Abdoulaye Meite and rolled in Watkins, who slid the ball under the keeper to double his and the away team’s tally.
Exeter nabbed a third just six minutes later. Joel Grant brought the ball down well in the Newport box before playing a one-two with Watkins. This allowed Riley-Lowe to maraud forward on the overlap. The full back played a wicked ball across the face of the County box where David Wheeler was on hand to finish.
The Exiles managed to grab one back after 81 minutes. Randall’s floated ball into the Exeter box was met by the free head of Sean Rigg, who caught Pym flat footed as the ball nestled in the far corner cueing muted celebrations around Rodney Parade.
City and Watkins had the last laugh though.
Deep into added time Newport sent the cavalry forward for a corner. After catching Rhys Healey in possession on the edge of the Grecians’ box Robbie Simpson managed to find Watkins bombing over the halfway line. The Academy graduate beat Joe Day to the ball, and on the fall managed to guide his strike into the net for his first senior hat trick. Compare this to his second in a 7-2 win over Liverpool for Villa this season, I think he enjoyed this one more.
This game marked the first of seven consecutive league games in which David Wheeler found the net; and was the mid-point in a 12-game unbeaten run which elevated City from 24th in November, to 4th by February.
Newport County: Day, Barnum-Bobb, Meite, Bennett (O’Hanlon 69’), Myrie-Williams, Randall, Tozer (Compton 45’), Sheehan, Jackson (Green 63’), Healey, Rigg
Unused: Butler, Bignot, Owen-Evans, Bittner
Exeter City: Pym, Stacey, Brown, Moore-Taylor, Riley-Lowe, Wheeler (Tillson 80’), Taylor, James, Watkins, Grant (Harley 55’), McAlinden (Simpson 88’)
Unused: Olejknik, Archibald-Henville, Oakley, Reid
Referee: Darren Deadman