A sensational Jamille Matt hat-trick saw Harriers come from behind with a blistering second half performance to down league leaders Newport County 3-2 at Aggborough on Saturday.
The visitors, two points clear at the top of the table at the start of play, started like a house on fire and pressured Harriers hard and succeeded in keeping them penned into their own 18-yard area; shots and corners raining in.
On 13 minutes it took a superb save from goalkeeper Danny Lewis to keep his team from conceding their first league goal in four outings, a corner delivery finding the head of Michael Smith – Lewis clawing the ball away as it looked destined for the top corner.
That seemed to be the wake-up call Harriers needed as, having been second best for much of the opening 20 minutes they took the lead themselves with 24 on the clock and it was a fine counter-attacking move; Mickey Demetriou set free as he sprayed the ball out beautifully to Danny Pilkington. He charged at the Newport defence and chipped a ball sumptuously over the head of the goalkeeper Alan Julian – Jamille Matt on hand to nod the ball over the line and make sure – strikes in consecutive games for the popular hit-man.
That joy would be short-lived, however – less than eight minutes later the league leaders were back on level terms, seemingly barely rattled by Harriers’ opener. More pressure built as County kept the ball on the edge of the area and as it was sprayed to Christian Jolley, red shirts appealed for the offside flag but the amber army took care of business and it was Smith with a powered finish past Lewis and into the back of the net.
Worse was to follow for Harriers as the third goal of the day arrived five minutes further on and it was the relentless Newport who go it – the hosts switched off momentarily from a short corner as lines simply weren’t cleared; Keith Briggs on the stretch could only force the ball out to Lee Evans who curled a smashing effort into Lewis’s top corner off the upright.
Harriers needed to force some openings to keep themselves in the game and with just a couple of minutes remaining in the first half, a superb double-save from Julian kept it at 2-1; it was Anthony Malbon with two bites at the cherry – one blast on the volley and another at close-range on the angle and the former Stevenage man did well to ensure both stayed out his net.
And yet Steve Burr’s men might still have found themselves 3-1 down at the break as, in the half’s dying seconds, Newport bashed the woodwork with Jolley’s curling drive that beat Lewis but not his far post.
For the first five minutes of the second half the reds were as dominant as County were for the opening stages of the first – Matt had an effort chalked off the line and Kyle Storer produced even more quality out of Julian as the stopper palmed his rising effort over the bar.
This frantic affair just kept turning, though, and just a few moments later Newport almost netted and it was again the influential Smith, his shot from distance again rose beautifully and clattered the top of Lewis’s bar as the two goal-frames continued to take a battering.
Aggborough’s excitement levels were raised further still on 58 minutes and it owed much to the determination of Mickey Demetriou as he chased a lost cause down the touchline and whipped a deep, teasing ball into the box when everyone in amber had given up on it – so such attitude for Matt, though, as he rose to meet it with a meaty header back across Julian that found the far corner.
A crazy spell around the 68th minute mark as Pilkington led the charge, drawing out Julian near the by-line before firing the ball along the six yard box where it eventually fell to Matt who took two stabs at it, his latter effort seemingly cleared away by a defending hand though appeals for a penalty fell on deaf ears.
Come the 75th minute mark and it was Julian again outdoing himself as he kept Harriers at bay, sub Ryan Rowe dispatching Pilkington who teased the defence with some great control before bending a fine shot towards the top corner that the custodian palmed over.
Just after, though, there was nothing Julian could do as Harriers stole ahead for the first time in the game; Lee Vaughan’s ball was simply irresistible and who else but Jamille Matt was on hand to turn the ball in from close range to seal an incredible hat-trick and to take his tally since his return less than a month ago to four.