ASK a local sports fan to run through Newport’s most iconic sporting moments and the city’s football team will hardly get a look-in.
Maybe last season’s dramatic escape from relegation, a 90th-minute winner on the final day keeping County in the Football League, might warrant a couple of mentions, along with the run to the quarter-finals of the European Cup-winners’ Cup in the early Eighties.
But, in the main, the talk will be of heroic deeds on the rugby field with pride of place going to the famous day in 1963 when all-conquering New Zealand were humbled at a sodden Rodney Parade.
It remains one of only four defeats for the All Blacks against a club side in decades of visiting Wales.
With that in mind, Leeds United seemed wise yesterday in ditching their usual away attire of all black to ensure the Exiles did not seek inspiration from their rugby cousins in trying to claim a major scalp.
By full-time, however, Leeds were left feeling as blue as the third-choice kit that head coach Thomas Christiansen’s men had sported while slipping to an embarrassing FA Cup exit.
Shawn McCoulsky’s last-minute header ensured justice was done as League Two Newport County bridged a 53-place gap in the football pyramid to knock out the Yorkshire side.
They did so on merit, too, as Christiansen’s gamble in making nine changes to his starting line-up backfired horribly.
Sure, Gaetano Berardi’s first senior goal meant Leeds led until the 76th minute, when Conor Shaughnessy put through his own goal.
But, on chances and enterprising play across the 90 minutes, one team were firmly in control and it certainly was not United.
Still, when the dust settles on this latest Cup embarrassment for Leeds, Berardi will at least have his first senior goal to look back on fondly.Richard Sutcliffe
With two strikers in Jay-Roy Grot and Pierre-Michel Lasogga incapable of holding up the ball to allow the midfield to get forward in support, Leeds spent most of the tie on the back foot.
Newport, beaten 5-1 at Elland Road in the Carabao Cup last August, worked out very quickly that the visitors’ defence were vulnerable in the air. This is what happens when Pontus Jansson is left at home and captain Liam Cooper left on the bench for an hour.
County exploited this weakness by getting the ball forward as quickly as possible, and then bombarding the visitors’ goal at every opportunity.
But for some last-gasp defending, including an excellent clearance off his own line by Mateusz Klich, United would have conceded long before Shaughnessy shinned the ball into his own net to cancel out Berardi’s early strike.
Klich’s block to deny Padraig Amond came six minutes after Berardi had marked his 102nd appearance for Leeds by breaking his scoring duck.
It was just about the last thing that went right for the visitors, who rode their luck until it eventually ran out via those two late, decisive goals.
Joss Labadie was twice denied from close range during the first half, while only the bravery of Andy Lonergan prevented Frank Nouble from muscling his way through on the hour.
A Dan Butler cross that floated a couple of inches wide of a post with Lonergan rooted to his line was another major let-off for Leeds, as was the mess Labadie later made of a volley when just ten yards out and unmarked.
United’s luck eventually ran out when Shaugnessy, in trying to clear Nouble’s low cross, knocked the ball into his own net.
This set up a frantic finale as Amond and Nouble wasted glorious chances before Paul Hayes fired narrowly wide from distance.
Scott Bennett then had an effort deflected behind for the corner that led to the tie’s decisive moment when McCoulsky threw himself at Robbie Willmott’s corner before powering an unstoppable header into the net.
Cue bedlam all around Rodney Parade, and a meltdown from Samuel Saiz who was dismissed for spitting at Willmott. The Spaniard being dragged away from referee Mike Dean and towards the tunnel by Cooper just about summed up Leeds’s sorry day.
The late drama meant Berardi’s big moment earlier in the afternoon had been totally overshadowed. This was harsh on the defender, who unlike most sporting blue had little about which to reproach himself come the final whistle after putting in a typically hard-working shift.
Still, when the dust settles on this latest Cup embarrassment for Leeds, Berardi will at least have his first senior goal to look back on fondly.
It was a strike worthy of such a long wait, the former Swiss international collecting a Newport clearance 30 yards from goal and then taking a couple of touches to assess his options.
With no one in amber and black closing him down, Berardi’s mind was quickly made up and he drilled a right-footed shot that, via a deflection off Pierre-Michel Lasogga’s calf, was soon nestling in the bottom corner of Joe Day’s net.
For two years, Leeds fans had sung, ‘If Berardi scores, we’re on the pitch’. As the man himself ran towards the 1,000 or so hardy souls who had travelled to south Wales to celebrate his opener, few could have believed that come the final whistle it would, instead, be the locals cavorting on the pitch after a famous Cup upset.
This, though, was the reality as Newport hailed a famous upset that, while being nowhere near as impressive as stopping those all-conquering All Blacks 55 years earlier, will be remembered for a long, long time in the valleys.
Newport County: Day, Pipe, White, Demetriou, Butler, Willmott (O’Brien 90), Bennett, Labadie, Dolan (McCoulsky 69), Nouble, Amond (Hayes 86). Subs Not Used: Reid, Sheehan, Tozer, Bittner.
Leeds United: Lonergan, Anita, Shaughnessy, Berardi, Borthwick-Jackson (Cooper 60), Sacko, Phillips, Klich, Cibicki, Grot (Samuel 75), Lasogga. Subs Not Used: Peacock-Farrell, Rey, Pearce, Kitching, Clarke.
Referee: Mike Dean (Wirral).