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VERDICT: Newport County 0 Bury 0
FORGET the ifs, buts and maybes, Bury manager David Flitcroft was more than happy to see his side navigate another tricky away fixture with an eighth clean sheet in 15 matches – chalking up another precious point towards League Two survival.
And late drama at second-bottom Northampton Town, who conceded a 96th-minute equaliser at home to AFC Wimbledon, provided a welcome added bonus.
The Shakers now travel to Sixfields on Saturday with a four-point cushion and a game in hand over their relegation rivals, which further highlights the fact that Flitcroft and his men remain in pole position, despite stretching their winless streak to seven matches at Rodney Parade.
That statistic could have been blown out of the water but for some errant first-half finishing from captain Craig Jones and veteran striker Clive Platt, while Danny Mayor saw a goal-bound effort clawed away to safety at the last second by Northampton stopper Ian McLoughlin.
But Flitcroft was certainly not a frustrated man.
“I don’t let myself get frustrated - it’s an emotion that, if you let it infect what you are doing it will infect the squad and I won’t allow that to happen because there are enough positives to look towards,” he said.
“I thought the way we defended against a forceful team was immaculate. It was difficult to play on that pitch and I thought we defended superbly.
“Barring not taking those chances first half, it was a complete performance.”
The slick passing of Saturday’s draw at home to Dagenham was never going to be replicated on a pitch torn up by rugby side Gwent Dragons.
And Bury noticeably switched tactics, going long at every opportunity.
But when they were able to get the ball down in the final third, winger Mayor and full-back Chris Hussey created havoc with a string of searching crosses from the left.
Jones was the main recipient, wasting two decent chances unmarked at the far post in the opening 10 minutes.
The midfielder blasted his first effort across goal from the edge of the box and then shinned his second chance behind for a goal kick after the ball jumped up off a divot as he looked poised to tap it in from six yards.
Mayor was the first and only Bury player of the half to test McLoughlin, cutting inside from the left and curling a shot that was going into the far corner before the stopper palmed it behind.
Chris Zebroski and Robbie Willmott forced Bury keeper Brian Jensen into equally impressive stops with shots from the right of the Shakers box.
But Platt wasted the best chance of the opening period, heading a dinked Hussey cross wide from six yards when in acres of space.
“I was right behind the Danny Mayor effort and he’s done everything right, and more,” said Flitcroft. “He’s let it go and it was in all the way, but it’s taken a superb save.
“It was a wonderful ball for Platty’s chance. Hussey has picked him out and it was as though time has stopped still, as if he was offside or something. I couldn’t work out why the header wasn’t directed because he had a lot of goal to hit.”
Chances were few and far between in the second half as Newport came more into the game and Bury worked hard to protect their point.
Shakers centre-back Jim McNulty was inches away from getting on the end of a Chris Sedgwick free kick a minute after the break before Newport captain Mike Flynn tested Jensen with a snap shot at the other end.
Flynn called upon the Bury keeper to make a similar save midway through the half, while Sedgwick saw an 80th-minute strike from the edge of the Newport box well saved by McLoughlin, low to his right.
But the game petered out in the final 10 minutes to hand Flitcroft’s men a fifth point in their last seven matches.
“I can’t put pressure on these players because we are creating opportunities, I think that’s the positive thing,” he concluded.
“First half we have created enough opportunities to win this game. So while scoring may seem to be our Achilles heel, I will galvanise our players to make sure that we see it through.”
NEWPORT COUNTY: McLoughlin; Naylor, Feely, Blake, Hughes; Willmott, Flynn, Minshull (Porter 79), Chapman; Zebroski, Crow (Holloway 46).
Not used: Sandell, Jeffers, Worley, Jolley, Howe.
BURY: Jensen 7; Veseli 7, Mills 8, McNulty 7, Hussey 7; Jones 7, Tutte 6 (Procter 6 63), Sedgwick 6, Mayor 7; Platt 6 (Akpa Akpro 6 70), Nardiello 6.
Not used: Hinds, Cameron, Grimes, Young, Charles-Cook.
Yellow cards: Newport County – Minshull 20, Chapman 67, Holloway 50, Zebroski 90+1.
Referee: Chris Sarginson (Staffordshire).
Star man: Pablo Mills – The centre-back once again showed all of his experience to guide Bury to an eighth clean sheet in 15 matches since his arrival at the JD Stadium. Their most recent shut-out was definitely not once for the purists, with a poor surface making attacking play almost impossible. But with perilous divots all over the Rodney Parade pitch, Mills’s dogged determination and calmness under pressure set a perfect example for the rest of his backline to follow. Another immense performance from a player bang in form and making a late run for Bury’s player of the season award.
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