A LATE own goal from Grimsby defender Ian Miller gave Justin Edinburgh’s Newport County a slender advantage going into the second leg of the Blue Square Bet Premier semi-final.
Exiles boss Edinburgh made seven changes to the team he sent into action on the final day of the season at the same venue, when they lost 3-0 for their first defeat in ten matches, but top scorer Aaron O’Connor’s injured thigh was not risked.
With Danny Crow and Christian Jolley – bizarrely wearing gloves with a short-sleeved shirt on a mild evening by the seaside – linking well, County settled better in a frenetic opening period littered with fouls.
In-form Jolley, with four goals in his last three appearances, showed dancing feet but shot wide after being set up by his strike partner, and Ismail Yakubu and Byron Anthony sent headers behind the goal before David Pipe blasted a couple of half-volleys into the travelling fans.
Grimsby grew into the game and had the clearer chances with skipper Craig Disley and fit-again top scorer of last term, Liam Hearn, keeping Lenny Pidgeley on his toes before Jamie Devitt arced a 28th-minute free-kick towards his top corner, the ex-Millwall stopper theatrically tipping over the bar.
Pidgeley made a double save on the stroke of half-time when Devitt fired another one straight at him, before Aswad Thomas reacted quickest to the rebound.
It seemed that Devitt, the on-loan Hull City winger, was on a one-man mission to score from distance, fizzing another one wide of Pidgeley’s right-hand post and then over the bar seconds before he was substituted just before the hour.
‘We only sing when we’re fishing’ sang the home faithful, and if they had been slow to dangle the bait in the first half, their side had started the second much brighter, sub Andi Thanoj the next to angle one towards the visitors’ net, but again too high.
As was right-winger Cleveland Taylor, who earned ironic cheers when his first-time effort from the ecleared not only Pidgeley’s goal, but the scoreboard as it orbited towards the Cleethorpes coast.
Grimsby came closest to breaking the stalemate in the 78th minute when Disley’s header looped up against a post, but Exiles defender Tony James hacked clear as Hearn waited to pounce a couple of yards out.
Andy Cook then had a header easily saved before Newport struck with only their second effort of the second half, and first on target in the entire 90 minutes.
Jolley won a debatable free-kick on the right, Andy Sandell whipped in the centre and Ismail Yakubu rose highest and appeared to head it into the bottom corner, but TV replays showed that Miller’s chest provided the final touch.
Edinburgh said: “Yaks has told me he’s scored it and he’s claiming a goal bonus, but it was a great inviting ball in and unfortunately they’ve got a touch on it.
“It was a very tight game and I thought one goal would win it here. Thankfully we have that goal.”