South Wales Argus Sports Reporter Scott Randall
Newport County Season Diary 2018/2019
Welcome Exiles. Over the coming season I'll be bringing you a monthly review of all things Newport to look back on, what will hopefully be, a successful season. They'll be ups, and they'll be downs, they'll be wins, and they'll be loses. And it certainly it won't be boring.
Here's to a enjoyable season for this great little club.
Shockwaves rumbled through Rodney Parade as news came out that club legend Michael Flynn had left the club by mutual consent before even managing a game for the club, as full time boss. He was quoted as saying that "Despite overwelming love for the club, and a passion to see them do well, I just feel as though it isn't the right time for me to be the manager".
Rumours swirled for days on who would replace the fan favourite, but then a press conference was announced for 26th June to unveil the new man at the helm.
Step forward Jake Stevenson, a complete unknown by EFL standards, but someone who impressed the club's heirachy with his record with Northern Premier League outfit Mickleover Sports, where he went the equivilent of two whole seasons unbeaten. They also spoke of being overwhelmingly enthused with his vision for the club, and the style of play he wanted to bring to the team. "I don't believe in possession for possession's sake. I'm not a long ball merchant, but I like my teams to get the ball between the lines quickly. I'm not a fan of endless sideways passing, cus you don't score goals by passing it around your back four". When this reported asked him what he would bring to the club, that other managers haven't, he replied, mattarfactly "A desire, and a will to win. I hate losing a game of football, it's the worst feeling in the world. And from now on, it's this club's job to ensure we don't have that feeling very often".
During his time at Mickleover, Stevenson deployed a variation on 4-4-2, very much in sync with how Ralph Hassenhuttl deployed his players at Ingolstadt & RB Leipzig, with wide playmakers able to drift around the park instead of standard wingers. He also believes in pressing his opponents as much as possible, so warned his new charges that preseason was going to be tough. "I never want the other team to have easy possession, I want them to have to battle for every touch, or pass they make. I want them worn down even before the half time whistle goes, so the lads will need to be in peak condition to maintain that standard".
The message appeared to get through to the players as their focus during preseason was sharp from the off, no better evidence of this was the fact that less than a week after Stevenson took charge that the team beat a Wolves team featuring full internationals 3-2, goals coming from Matt Dolan, Keanu Marsh-Brown and Jamille Matt. The team looked confident on the ball, and prepared to make risky passes in order to pull the Premier League new boys around the park.
More eyecatching results followed as The Exiles racked up another four victories including a 9-1 win over Newport Civil Service, and a 5-1 trouncing of Wealdstone. Their only defeat came against Hearts.
On the signings front, there weren't many from the new boss. Michael Flynn had already re-tooled the squad bringing in loans Ryan Inness from Crystal Palace, the yound right back Danny Mcnamara from Millwall, and Taylor Maloney, a combative midfielder from Charlton. Add to that the permanent signings of Marsh-Brown, Matt, Daniel Leadbetter, Andrew Crofts, Ade Azeez, Corey Whitely, Nick Townsend & Dominic Poleon, it was obvious that there wasn't much room left on the wage bill for further signings. However Stevenson was able to bring in a new face, Dean Bowditch, the left midfielder who'd had a successeful few seasons with MK Dons, was brought in a one year deal, following his release from Northampton. "He's an experienced lad, with a great footballing brain, and he's perfect for for how we're going to play." said Stevenson at his unvieling. As for Bowditch, he couldn't hide his enthusiasm, "I can't wait to get started. The boss really sold me on what he's trying to do, the lads seem like a great bunch as well, so I'm excited for the season ahead"
Enthusiasm & excitement appeared to be the buzz words around the club. Players & staff appeared focused and enjoying training, and there was a real sense that they could hit the ground running once the real games got underway.
Best of luck. Dean Bowditch certainly doesn't lack in experience and that will be crucial this season, I think.
A new month, and a new signing. Will Miller signed on an initial one year deal. He started his career at Tottenham, then moved to Burton Albion. It was there he suffered a horrific ACL injury that put him out of action for almost 12 months. "It was a very rough time, despite my best efforts to stay positive I fell into depression and was about to walk away from the game when I got the call from the gaffer, saying I should go and have a chat with Newport" explained Miller after signing. Stevenson paid thanks to The Brewer's boss for doing his scouting for him, "I was chatting to Nigel Clough, and he spoke very highly of Will, and explained he had to let him go but he'd be excellent for us. We've took a bit of a gamble but having seen a bit of him in training, I think he's going to be a big player for us".
He certainly made an impact when he was handed a surprise start in the first game of the season away to Grimsby, his pressing from the front allowed him to tee up Padraig Amond for the last goal in a well deserved 3-0 victory. That was Amond's second of the game, and the previous season's top scorer looks like he's picking up where he left off. Scott Bennett rounded out the scoring, tapping in a Marsh-Brown free kick, with the help of some lax Mariners defending.
It got even better for Amond & The Exiles in the next game as his 1st half hattrick pretty much ended the home game against Northampton as a contest. Dominic Poleon & Jamille Matt rounded out the scoring in a resounding 5-2 victory. Stevenson was over the moon with his players "The lads were fantastic today, and have been ever since I came in. We pressed, we made brave decisions on the ball, and despite their two late goals I thought we defended really well. I couldn't be happier".
Stevenson was equally enthused by the 4-1 victory over a heavily fancied Brentford side in the Carabo Cup 1st Round tie. The viewers tuning in live on Sky must've really enjoyed how well Newport played once they shook off the disappointment of going a goal down to Nikos Karelis' header. Corey Whitely slotted home a brilliant 20 yard free kick ten minutes later, and headered the third straight from a corner in the 2nd half. Sandwiched between those was Miller's 1st goal for the club, he latched onto an excellent through ball from Josh Sheehan, before calmly rounding the keeper and slotting it home. Matt rounded off the night by powering a crisp, right-footed strike into the to top corner from 15 yards.
The cup dream came to an abrupt end in the next round, succumbing to Bournemouth 5-1 at the Vitality Stadium. The Premier League outfit were simply too good, despite Miller giving Newport the lead in the 11th minute.
Sandwiched between the two cup games were a hard earned 1-1 draw with Crewe. Josh Sheehan's brilliant shot from distance was cancelled out by Jobi McAnuff's 90th minute equaliser. And a drab showing in a home defeat to Exeter. Despite peppering The Grecian's goal for the majority of the 2nd half, they couldn't find a goal to add to Whitely's first half strike, and went down 2-1. "It doesn't feel great" said Stevenson when asked how his first league defeat felt. "We tried our best to get back into it in the 2nd half, but it you don't keep the ball out your own net, and don't put it in the opposition's, you're not going to win football games. Simple as that".
They did both of those a lot better against Crewe in the last fixture of the month, cruising to a 3-1 win curtesy of a goal apiece from Matt, Amond & the first of the season for Matt Dolan
All in all it's been a very good start to the campaign, and the team is thrilling to watch at times. Could Stevenson be onto something here? Only time will tell.
As with last month, September began with another new signing. Ali Omar, a young centre back, released by Stevenage, put pen to paper on a 1 year deal, before the team travelled to Cheltenham. It was a successful trip with The Exiles running out 3-2 winners thanks to a brace from Will Miller and a stoppage time strike from Corey Whitely. In the post match press conference Stevenson wasn’t shy about talking up his latest purchase. “I have no idea why Stevenage decided to let a player of Ali’s potential go. Even for an 18 year old he’s got very good physical attributes, he’s a real athlete, with plenty of pace. And he’s got a good positional sense as well. I think he’ll be a very good compliment to the other lads in the back four”.
Next up was a crazy 6-4 win over Colchester. Braces from Miller, Dominic Poleon & Jamille Matt insuring the victory despite some questionable defending. It goes without saying Stevenson would’ve expected better from Mark O’Brien now he’s fully fit after missing a large part of preseason.
A few days later, league leaders Swindon inflicted the 2nd defeat of the season. It will be a very long time before Nick Townsend forgets the day that’s for sure. He gifted the lead to Swindon, dithering on a back pass from Kyle Howkins, allowing Eion Doyle to rob him of the ball and thump into an empty net. Then he allowed a speculative 18 yard effort from Davis Kielor-Dunn to squirm from his grasp and trickle over the line. Padraig Amond pulled a goal back with 10 minutes left, but in fairness a draw would’ve been harsh of Swindon, who bossed the game for large parts.
More points were dropped to another promotion contender with a 2-2 draw at home to Mansfield. Padraig Amond had given The Exiles a slender lead at half time, by converting a 31st minute penalty. Shortly after the 2nd half got underway, Mal Benning took advantage of Dominic Poleon’s slack marking to slot home at the back post. Then just after the hour mark Neal Bishop was given the freedom of Rodney Parade to waltz through the middle of the park and pick his spot from 20 yards. Stevenson acted quickly in bringing on Whitely for an ineffective Poleon and had the team go a lot more direct from the restart. After a period of intense pressure Josh Sheehan played in Whitely down the righthand side, and his byline cross was inch perfect for Miller to tap home from 6 yards. Either side would’ve felt hard done by with a loss, as it was a very even contest.
The same can’t be said for 6-2 win against Morcombe. Andrew Crofts & Dean Bowditch registered their first goals of the season to make it 2-0 after 34 minutes, before a scrambled effort from Rhys Oates gave the visitors a lifeline at half time. That lifeline was well and truly cast overboard after the restart once Amond had converted a 48th minute penalty. Then Poleon went rampant, completing a 25 minute hat trick, which included a rocket of a left foot strike from 25 yards. John O’Sullivan headed in from a corner late on, but there’s no getting away from the fact that Newport were pretty much unstoppable on the day.
Walsall did a lot better job of stopping them in the final match of the month, holding Stevenson’s side to a 2-2 draw. Although the score line is nothing special, both of the Newport goals will live long in the memory. The first from Andrew Crofts was all about power, spanking a poor headed clearance from Matt Sadler with such ferocity that the goalie Liam Roberts didn’t even time to think about diving. It cannoned in on the underside of the bar on the stroke of half time to leave the game finely poised. Will Miller’s second after 67 minutes, was all about beauty. He picked up the ball to the left of the centre circle, dropped the shoulder & used his pace to surge away from two midfielders, then a nonchalant step over left Shay Facey on his backside and a sight of goal 20 yards out. From there he sent a shot curling unerringly into the bottom corner of Roberts’ goal. Simply sublime from the youngster. It certainly deserved to the winner, but poor communication between Scott Bennett & Kory Howkins left Rory Gaffney with a free header to level it with 5 minutes to play.
The end of the month sees The Exiles sitting 7th. A good return after 10 games, but you get the feeling a lack of rotation during a heavy fixture list, and some frailty at the back, might hamper all the obvious good work Jake Stevenson is doing with the team.
Some good writing mate. I've always been a fan of Irishman Pádraig Amond, he has some top tier pace, and it's good to see him doing well for this Newport side!
A decent start. There are some obvious issues that need to be addressed but there are definitely more positives than negatives to focus on at the minute.
A 1-1 home draw to Oldham kicked off the month, and to say you wouldn’t have missed much if you’d have turned up late is an understatement. 87 minutes of complete boredom were punctured by 7 of utter chaos. First Zak Mills turned the ball into his own net on 88 minutes. A cross from Corey Whitely managed to find it’s way through a throng of players before cannoning off his unsuspecting shin, and into the bottom corner. Then less than a minute later, Newport were awarded a penalty as Will Miller was dragged down, just inside the box. Matt Dolan stepped up, and put his shot wide of Gary Woods’ left post. Buoyed by the lifeline they were handed Oldham pressed for an equaliser, and with barely 20 seconds left of the 5 minutes of stoppage time, Chris Missile took full advantage of the space afforded him to power a shot past Nick Townsend and into the bottom corner. One felt sorry for the water bottle Stevenson took his frustrations out on in the dugout.
A more routine result was next as two goals from Padraig Amond, and one from Will Miller were enough to see off Port Vale. Aaron Kuhl replied for the hosts deep in stoppage time, but it was a barely deserved consolation as The Exiles bossed the game from start to finish. “Very happy with that” beamed Stevenson afterwards, “We looked assured and positive in our play, were organised, and the energy levels never dropped. The fans seemed to enjoy it as much as I did, as they never stopped singing today. They were excellent.”
The fans were a little harder to hear when 419 of them turned up to watch their team take on Chelsea U23s for 2nd group E game of the Checkertrade Trophy. However those who did turn up did have plenty to be pleased about. Firstly was the result, a very pleasing 2-1 win over a side featuring under 21 internationals in every single position. And secondly was the first appearances of the season for new signing Ali Omar, and club favourite Joss Labadie, after his 7 month lay off with cruciate ligament damage. Omar certainly caught the eye looking composed on the ball, whilst keeping Tammy Abraham quiet. Some of his positioning was questionable, but his searing pace certainly made up for the times he was caught out. If Stevenson can polish off his rough edges, he’ll be an important player for them going forward.
High flyers Bradford were next to visit Rodney Parade. They came into the game on the back of 4 straight wins, but it was Newport who looked the better side. They controlled the game for the majority of the 90 minutes, and created several clearcut chances, but it was a shame that most of them landed at the feet of Amond, as it was certainly an off day for the Irishman. Even goal scorer Millar conceded he could’ve done better with the second half chances he had to retake the team’s lead after Jamie Devitt’s equaliser. “It’s pretty gutting we didn’t get a second” said the goalscorer, “I’m sure we’ll play worse than that this season and win comfortably.” He’s right.
Since the start of the season Stevenson has shown, either through lack of personnel or faith in those currently playing, a reluctance to rotate his players very much. That changed against Scunthorpe, replacing ever present Matt Dolan with Labadie, and dropping Amond to the bench, allowing Jamille Matt a chance to impress. Unfortunately, neither of them really did, but the same can be said for the rest of the team. A lacklustre display saw The Exiles slip to a 1-0 defeat to Scunthorpe and Stevenson didn’t hold back in his judgement. “That was dreadful from start to finish. We lacked intensity, we lacked ideas, we lacked effort. It was so unlike us. I’m very disappointed. I’m sure the fans are too”
If you were to look at the card count for the 1-1 away draw to Plymouth, you’d have thought that should be dubbed the ‘Battle of Home Park’. But if you had watched the game, you’d know that it was just an over zealous referee, spoiling a game of football for paying customers. He dished out no fewer than 12 yellow cards & one 1 red during the 90 minutes, and you’d argue only a couple of those, including the red one for Dominic Poleon warranted a booking. Between the torrent of unnecessary cards Newport did show tremendous character to play good football, and even take the lead despite being down to 10 men from the 23rd minute. Ben Bowditch picked up the ball just outside his own half, and released Miller down the left wing. With so many Argyle defenders committed forward, he took advantage of the 2 on 2 situation to surge to the edge of the box, and roll it across to Jamille Matt to slot home from 12 yards. Unfortunately they ran out of steam in the second half, with Zak Rudden heading in from a corner with 5 minutes to play. Stevenson however was full of praise for his team. “Couldn’t fault them one bit, I asked for a reaction after the Scunthorpe game, and that’s exactly what I got. Even though we were a man down, we kept playing our football, and were unlucky to draw. I’m proud of them”
Capping of the month Josh Sheehan, picked up the Man of the Match award in the 1-0 home win against Salford. He also scored the winner, and what a winner it was. He left the Exile fans slack jawed after curling in into the top corner from 20 yards. A quality strike from a player who looks to be really enjoying his football at the moment. The only downside to the game was the injury to right back Daniel Leadbetter after 10 minutes. Although Ali Omar deputised well, it remains to be seen if Stevenson will stick with him for the next few games, or if he shows more faith in loanee Danny McNamara. Whichever one he decides on, they’ll have to hit the ground running as November is another busy month,
Despite some disappointing results The Exiles remain 6th, and are still firmly in the play off hunt. However Stevenson & the fans will be concerned about the inconsistancy in performances.
Hopefully some level of consistency can return as quickly as possible.
November couldn’t have gotten off to a worst start for The Exiles as they found themselves a goal down in their first game, without touching the ball. James Morton putting Forest Green ahead with a scorching 25 yarder on 30 seconds. Despite this earliest of setbacks, Newport rallied well and equalised just before half time. Will Miller latched onto a simple ball forward by Matt Dolan and slipped it under the keeper from 12 yards. Even though they spent the majority of the 2nd half knocking on the home side’s door Stevenson’s men couldn’t get a second, and had to settle for the draw.
FA Cup First Round day is always a special day for clubs up & down the country, one that grants fans the chance to dream of their team stepping out onto the hallowed turf of Wembley. The Newport fans, this 1st round day proved to be a nightmare. In the worst performance of the season they were dismantled 4-1 away to non league Dover. “I may have made too many changes” admitted Stevenson after the game. “But saying that, you still expect a certain level of commitment from whoever you pick to play, and there simply wasn’t today. I’ll be getting to the bottom of why that’s the case, starting tomorrow”. Stevenson was right, there’s no excuse for such a wretched performance. Bar Marvel Ekpiteta, who was making only his second appearance of the season to cover for Dean Leadbetter, the back four was full of experience and match fit. Yet they played as though it was the first time they played together, and even though the score line was embarrassing, Dover should really have had more.
Things got a little better as they took on AFC Wimbledon in the Checkatrade Trophy. Jamille Matt’s opener & a brace from Joss Ladabie gave them a comfortable 3-0 lead at half time. But then the defensive errors resurfaced and The Dons were able to make it 3-2 with 5 minutes of extra time to face. Fortunately they were able to hold on, but the defence once again proved to be the team’s Achilles heel.
The pattern repeated itself in the next home game against Colchester. The Exiles sprinted out to a 2 goal lead within 20 minutes, but then pegged back due to sloppiness. Joss Labadie opened the scoring after the Colchester rearguard were unable to clear a corner, prodding home from 6 yards. Then Corey Whitely tapped home from the same distance after Miller was able to beat the offside trap and square it for the onrushing winger. Miller then turned scorer 10 minutes after the break. Matt Dolan won possession 30 yards out and fed the striker on the D Colchester’s box, who then turned in the blink of an eye, and sent a rocket into the bottom corner. 3-0, job done. Or at least it would’ve been if the back four had kept things simple. Stevenson likes to play out from the back, but at some point his defenders should play the percentages and clear it. Twice they gave the ball away in unnecessary positions, and twice they were punished for it. Fortunately the visitors 2nd came in the 93 minutes, and there wasn’t time for an equaliser. “I’m sure the neutral supporter would’ve loved it” chucked Stevenson.
Crawley visited Rodney Parade 3 days later, and probably wished they’d stayed in West Sussex as Newport were rampant. Matt Dolan, 2 from Miller, and an absolute thunderbolt from Dean Bowditch had the game wrapped up by half time. And even though Labadie was sent off n the hour for a 2nd bookable offence, there was still time for a vicious low cross from Whitely to cannon off Van Velven’s shin for goal number five. “Yes we were great going forward, but I should heap some praise on the defence who were faultless today. Considering it’s the first time Ali (Omar), and Kyle (Howkins) has started together, I thought they looked really solid and complimented each other really well” gushed Stevenson. And he had every rite to, both centre halves looked comfortable on the ball, and dealt with everything that came their way, and a clean sheet was most welcome.
A visit to Cambridge rounded out the month, and another clean sheet gave signs that the hard work Stevenson alluded to on the training ground is starting to pay dividends. The 2-0 victory came curtesy of a goal a piece from Jamille Matt and the excellent Omar.
The FA Cup defeat to Dover looks as though it may have well been a turning point for the season. Since that fateful day there has been 4 straight wins, 13 goals scored and 5 conceded. A vast improvement. As a bi-product they now sit 4th, 4 points clear of 7th with a game in hand on those above. New good habits will need to continue though, as Bradford and Swindon continue to lead the pack, and will take some catching.
A shambolic performance and result against Dover, but lately things are on the up again. The defence seems to be coming together again after a rather tumultuous few games, whilst goals still continue to fly in at the other end.
For Newport fans, December really has been the season to be jolly, but only because their team were so much like one of Christmas’ more well known characters, Ebenezer Scrooge. Only one goal conceded during 6 league games has the Exiles banging on the door of the top 2.
Stevenage were the first to come up against the yellow wall of a defence. A goal apiece from Will Miller & Corey Whitely sealed the points, but the manager was happier with his back line. “I thought Ali & Kyle were brilliant all game. What they’re lacking in experience, they’re making up for with hard graft and knowing their jobs”.
Three consecutive 1-0 victories followed, the first away to Carlisle was sealed by a Jamille Matt strike on the 70th minute. Then Padraig Amond assumed match winner duties in the consecutive home games against Macclesfield & Grimsby.
Things were a little more topsy-turvy against Leyton Orient in the last game of the year. They looked to be cruising after Amond and a Miller penalty had them leading well into the second half, but Jordan Maguire-Drew half the deficit with 30 minutes to play, and made it hard going for the boys in yellow from then on in. They could relax after substitute Matt raced onto a through ball from Dean Bowditch, rounded the keeper, and made it 3-1 deep into stoppage time.
Despite a defeat by penalties to Arsenal Under 23s in the Checkatrade Trophy, it’s been a brilliant month. The pairing of the pacy Howkins & Omar means the defence is more mobile and able to play the high line Stevenson insists on more comfortably, which in turn allows better control of games. However it’s worth noting that the squad is still low on quality back up, so the fans will be hoping the manager & board kind find a way to freshen up the squad during the upcoming transfer window. With the team up to 3rd and within three points of 2nd placed Bradford, it may well be the time to speculate to accumulate.
Looking very impressive lately. A couple of additions and League One football next season is almost a certainty.
A 1-0 defeat is not the way anyone wanted to welcome in the new year, but that’s the way Newport did it. The Manager of The Month curse struck within two hours of Jake Stevenson accepting his for December. “I should’ve gratefully declined it in hindsight” he joked after the game. “We might’ve controlled the game, but Exeter had the better chances, and if wasn’t for Tom (King) making some great saves, it would’ve been a lot worse”
A goal a piece from Josh Sheehan & Will Miller, either side of a brace from Jamille Matt got the team back on track away to Northampton Town 4 days later. Despite The Cobblers scoring 2 of their own, Newport were in control from off, and never looked back once Sheehan had opened the scoring. “The whole team wanted to work hard and get back on track as soon as possible, and I reckon we did it today” said Matt after game. “Hopefully we can go on another good run again”.
The third consecutive away game of the month ended 2-2 against Crewe, with Sheehan again opening the scoring with a crisp right footed drive from the edge of the area. The hosts fought back gamely, and took the lead in 10 2nd half minutes. Chris Porter equalised with a header on 68 before Tom Lowery tapped in from 6 yards after fine work from Liam Reilly down the left wing. But The Exiles weren’t be denied a share of the points as Matt pounced on a poor clearance, to ram home the equaliser with 3 minutes to play.
The first home game of the year was a highly professional 2-0 victory over Cheltenham, the returning Joss Ladabie and Matt again providing the goals. “I feel like I’m in the form of my life at moment” beamed Matt after the game. “Credit to the lads for putting the ball in the right areas for me. It’s great playing with them, cus you know you’re gonna get good service”.
As if the win over The Robins wasn’t satisfying enough, the club then confirmed that they’d made 3 loan signings shortly before the game. The first name announced was Jordan Gabriel, an 18 year old right back from Nottingham Forest’s revered academy. Next to sign until the end of the season was highly rated midfielder Josh Laurent from Shrewsbury. And last but not least was Yan Dhanda, from near neighbours Swansea, who’ll compete with Ben Bowditch for the left wing spot. “I think it’s been obvious for the start of December, when the games started coming thick & fast, that we needed a couple of new faces” admitted Stevenson. “Not only rest a few players, but to give us different options within games. All three of the lads are good players, and will help us enormously for the rest of the season”. There were some outgoings as well, Ade Azeez & Robbie Wilmott have joined Gabriel’s parent club Forest, the former initially on loan, and the later a permanent deal for £500k.
All three new signings were handed their debuts against 2nd placed Swindon, and they certainly didn’t disappoint. Each of them played their part in a superb 3-0 win. Dhanda in particular showed why Stevenson showed faith in his newly acquired youngsters, scoring twice in the 2nd half, and coming off with 10 minutes to go to a standing ovation. “None whatsoever” was Stevenson’s reply when he was asked if he had any concerns about starting the 3 of them in such an important game. “We scouted all three of them extensively, so we knew what kind of lads they were, and that they’d fit straight in. I’m delighted for all three of them”. The man of the match said he was surprised to be starting so soon after signing. “Certainly I was a bit shocked, and I think Josh & Gabs were as well. But the gaffer was very reassuring, and told us to go out and enjoy it”.
Transfer deadline day saw an arrival & a departure apiece. Exciting young prospect Jim Webster signed after a successful trial, and Marvel Ekpiteta returned to his native Nigeria, signing for Plateau United.
All in all, it’s been another great month for the club. If it wasn’t for the defeat to Exeter they’d be 2nd. As it stands though, they’re 4 points of Bradford in first, and most importantly 9 points clear of 7th. Good times…
It's looking more and more promising that promotion is within close proximity.
Due to their involvement in the FA being revoked by Dover, it’s been a short month for Newport, with just the four games. But that didn’t mean there still wasn’t plenty of action for the fans to enjoy. Their emotions were certainly put through the ringer against Mansfield.
Although they sat in 8th they have been having a good season, with their home form being particularly strong. That was pretty evident from the first whistle as The Exiles struggled to cope with their hosts. Connor Shaughnessy gave them a deserved lead on the half hour mark, latching on to Omar’s poor clearance from a corner, and firing home from the edge of the box. A lifeline was extended to Newport 10 minutes later as Will Miller was shoved over in the box, having been put clean through by a Josh Laurent pass. Karl Madianga was given a straight red card, and the away fans cheered at the prospect of going into half time with parity, and a man advantage. Unfortunately Miller’s resulting penalty was put wide! Into the 2nd half and despite the extra man, the team looked short on ideas on how to break a rearranged Mansfield defence down. That was until the 57th minute when Laurent opened his account for his new side. Taking a square ball from Gabriel 25 yards out, the round midfielder drove to the edge of the box before sending a gorgeous curling effort, with the outside of his right foot into the top corner. A fantastic strike. Gabriel was involved again shortly after, releasing Jamille Matt down the right wing. His cross sailed to the far post where the onrushing Dhanda poked the ball in at a tight angle. Matt Dolan looked to have made things easier on everyone’s pulse rates with a curling, 20 yard free kick with 10 minutes to play. But Mansfield refused to go quietly and Nicky Maynard made it 3-2 on the 90th minute. Queue 5 minute stoppage time minutes of The Stags throwing everything at Stevenson’s team. And if it wasn’t for Tom King’s post, they would’ve grabbed an unlikely point. Maynard again causing trouble with his pace surged into the box, but his left foot drive struck the upright. Full time came as a relief.
The next game against Morecombe proved to be the polar opposite, a stale 0-0 draw. The only excitement was Ali Omar’s sending off for a rash tackle on Alex Kenyon, on the hour. 90 minutes nobody will remember in a hurry.
Things flipped again with an entertaining 3-3 draw at home to Walsall. A 12th minute Miller penalty gave them an early lead before a Josh Gordon header, from a corner pegged them back just before half time. Mihai Dobre then took advantage of Newport’s high defensive line to twice beat the offside trap and slot past a stranded King. Stevenson acted quickly, sending on Dolan & Dean Bowditch for the ineffective Dhanda & Josh Sheehan. With the introduction of fresh legs & more urgent passing, they gave themselves a lifeline. Laurent showing again how dangerous he is from the edge the box, slamming a shot into the bottom corner of the Walsall goal with 10 minutes to play. The come back was complete 3 minutes later as Bowditch raced clear down the left wing and centred for Corey Whitely to poke home at the back post. “I don’t think either manager is pleased about the defending today” commented Stevenson.
The last game of the month, away to Oldham, highlighted what happens with both the defence & attack are at the top of their game. Dandha, another penalty from Miller & Padriag Amond put the gloss on one of the best performances of the season. Stevenson was certainly pleased. “No offence to Oldham, but we made that look really easy today. It was a pleasure to watch”
Stevenson may have appeared content at the end of that game, but deep down he’ll be angry at the unnecessary dropped points this month. It will sting even more due to the fact that Bradford also slipped up, giving Swindon the opportunity to open up a 3 point lead at the top. Newport remain 3rd, two points behind Bradford. However a big plus point for him and the fans is how quickly the three loanees have settled in and contributed. Dhanda & Laurent in particular are looking absolute steals so far.
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