League Two Season Preview: Part Three

With just two days to go until the new season, here’s Part Three of the League Two Season Preview, including a closer look at the Cobblers as well as Mansfield, MK Dons, Morecambe, Newport and Notts County.

Mansfield Town

Last season…

Much was made of Mansfield at the start of last season and with Steve Evans at the helm bringing in plenty of League Two experience there was every reason to think that the Stags would be up among the challengers for promotion. Evans had brought in the likes of Zander Diamond, David Mirfin and Bobby Olejnik at the start of the summer and had his own experience to draw on for an attack on the top three.

Despite this, Town didn’t really get going properly until December when they would embark on a run of one defeat in sixteen including a three game winning run in late January/early February. Then came the shock resignation of Evans with the club just two points away from the top three with Evans moving to League One Peterborough United, an apparent dream job for the Scotsman.

David Flitcroft was identified as the man to finish the job at Field Mill and he joined from fellow playoff chasers Swindon but Evans’ departure clearly hit the squad hard as they wouldn’t win again until 14 April, a 1-0 success of Chesterfield that reinvigorated their playoff hopes. But one win and two draws, including a final day 1-1 draw at home to Crawley wasn’t enough to finish in the top seven thanks to results elsewhere.

Transfers…

In: Matt Preston (Swindon), Neal Bishop (Scunthorpe), Craig Davies (Oldham), Otis Khan (Yeovil), Tyler Walker (Nottingham Forest)

Out: Rhys Bennett (Peterborough), George Taft (Cambridge), Johnny Hunt (Stevenage), Joel Byrom (Stevenage), Paul Digby (Forest Green)

Promotion Odds…

9/4

Outlook…

David Flitcroft begins his first full season as Stags boss with the clear aim of going one better than last season and at least making it into the playoffs. Early signs are good with the exciting signings of Tyler Walker from Nottingham Forest and Otis Khan from Yeovil and they look in good shape to be one of the challengers again this season.

One vital piece of outgoing business may yet hinder Town’s chances, though, with prolific striker Danny Rose, who hit seventeen in all competitions last season, handing in a transfer request this week amidst interest from former boss Evans at Peterborough United. If they can get a deal done and a replacement in during the final week of the window then they should still have enough to be up there in the table so for now I’m going with another playoff push for the Stags.

MK Dons

Last season…

There won’t be a lot of fond memories being handed down to the grandchildren from a wretched League One campaign for MK Dons. Starting off as outside bets for the playoffs, MK went from manager to manager and looked a shadow of their tag as contenders.

Despite a September win over AFC Wimbledon, form was concerning and Robbie Neilson was beginning to come under increased pressure. Between the end of September and the end of Neilson’s reign, MK fans only saw their side win on two occasions, one of which included a remarkable nine man win at home to Peterborough United. Neilson was sent packing after a 2-1 defeat at Sixfields in January and former academy coach and England under 16s manager Dan Micciche was the surprise appointment to try and steer them away from the relegation zone.

Micciche would last less than three months after seeing his side win just three times in sixteen outings. The season was all but over at that stage with just three games to go and the club six points from safety and Keith Millen stepped up from assistant manager to see through the inevitable relegation. As MK try to turn their tide back in the right direction they now turn to long serving Exeter boss Paul Tisdale and it’ll be interesting to see how he sets about his business as his new club.

Transfers…

In: Mitch Hancox (Macclesfield), Ryan Watson (Barnet), Jordan Moore-Taylor (Exeter), Ryan Harley (Exeter), Robbie Simpson (Exeter), Jordan Houghton (Chelsea), Mathieu Baudry (Doncaster), Baily Cargill (Unattached)

Out: Ed Upson (Bristol Rovers), Scott Wootton (Plymouth)

Promotion Odds…

6/4

Outlook…

Paul Tisdale wasted little time in bringing in three of his trusted Exeter playing staff in Jordan Moore-Taylor, Ryan Harley and Robbie Simpson to add to his squad which should be a level above League Two should they all stick together. Tisdale is the type of manager that will be excited by a project like rebuilding MK and should be relishing the fact that he no longer has his hands tied by financial pressures.

Anything less than promotion will be seen as a failure and that’s surely what Tisdale and his new team will finish with.

Morecambe

Last season…

Another season of battling the odds under Jim Bentley so nearly saw The Shrimps relegated but right at the death they managed to keep their heads just, and only just, above water to send Barnet down to the National League on a dramatic final day of the season.

A 2-1 opening day win against Cheltenham Town showed nothing of what was to come and Bentley’s men would win just four more times before Christmas. Poor form continued to mean that they were dicing with death for the entire season and after beating Exeter 2-1 in mid-March they would slowly see Barnet close in on them in the relegation battle thanks to a number of dropped points in the last knockings of the campaign.

They would need a point on the last day of the season and duly got it on a nerve wracking afternoon at Coventry. Barnet won their game 3-0 but it wasn’t enough to catch Morecambe on goal difference, giving the Shrimps their salvation.

Transfers…

In: James Sinclair (Unattached), Andrew Tutte (Bury), Jason Oswell (Stockport), Zak Mills (Grimsby), Rhys Oates (Hartlepool), Liam Mandeville (Doncaster), Mark Halstead (Southport), Jordan Cranston (Cheltenham)

Out: Aaron McGowan (Hamilton Academical)

Promotion Odds…

20/1

Outlook…

It’s again going to be tough for the Shrimps to break out of the pack at the bottom of the table, particularly as talisman Kevin Ellison turns forty by the end of August. They’ve brought in some decent experience including Andrew Tutte from Bury, a consistent performer at this level. Jason Oswell is one to watch having scored twenty nine times in the National League North for Stockport County last season and Jim Bentley will be desperately hoping that form continues in league football.

Bentley will be sure to get the best out of what he has again but it looks like another relegation battle to me.

Newport County

Last season…

A season that exceeded many expectations at Newport with a superb FA Cup run and a small tilt at getting into the top seven. Mike Flynn did an excellent job at getting the most out of his players once again as the Exiles finished in an impressive eleventh place in League Two.

The first three games of the season were all away games thanks to the Rodney Parade pitch being re-laid but County picked up five points from those three to give themselves a good start to the campaign. Inconsistency dogged them through the early months but the fact that wins were being racked up in good number meant that they were never in any danger of being dragged into the battle at the bottom end of League Two.

County would be just five points from the playoffs following a 2-0 win at Yeovil in March but a four game winless run put paid to any realistic ambitions of reaching the top seven. Back to back victories in April, though, steadied the ship and a final day draw at Carlisle earned them their final place in eleventh.

Away from the league, County would earn national recognition thanks to their fine FA Cup run that saw them beat Walsall, Cambridge and Championship side Leeds United en route to a plum tie with Spurs. They so nearly pulled off an incredible upset at Rodney Parade thanks to Padraig Amond’s goal but Harry Kane levelled with eight minutes to go to take the tie back to Wembley, where Spurs finally sealed the victory but only by a 2-0 score line that in no way disgraced Flynn’s men.

So a good league finish, a cup run and a Wembley appearance – not bad at all!

Transfers…

In: Keanu Marsh-Brown (Forest Green), Charlie Cooper (Forest Green), Fraser Franks (Stevenage), Tyreeq Bakinson (Bristol City)

Out: Ben Tozer (Cheltenham), Frank Nouble (Colchester)

Promotion Odds…

12/1

Outlook…

The problem you have with punching so high one season is that it’s difficult to match the following year and Newport could well fall into that category. Transfer activity has been fairly limited so far but the capture of the exciting Keanu Marsh-Brown from league rivals Forest Green Rovers should add a new level of creativity to their play.

Without a cup run distraction they may go well but it will be still be tough to reproduce the form of last season. I’m only giving them a shot at mid-table security again this time around.

Northampton Town

Last season…

Where do we start? From the dourness of Justin Edinburgh to Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink’s constant tinkering and mind blowing starting line ups, the season was an absolute disaster and produced some of the worst performances from a Cobblers team that we’d ever seen.

There was even some mild optimism at the start of the season but Edinburgh lost his first four games of the season included a morale sapping 4-1 defeat at Peterborough which was the final straw and he was shown the exit before September could even get going. Hasselbaink was brought in under a lot of fanfare and started well but a 6-0 home defeat to Bristol Rovers highlighted the deficiencies in the squad. The plan was to try and keep in touch with those outside the drop zone by the time the January transfer window came around and there was brief relief thanks to a three game winning run at the start of 2018.

But everything slowly unravelled for Hasselbaink as baffling tactics and players playing completely out of position led to a divide between the fans and manager. A 2-1 home defeat to Gillingham was the height of the mess and the narrow score line masked an absolutely horrendous Tuesday night outing. Time was running out in the battle for survival but it looked like we’d left it far too late when Hasselbaink mirrored Edinburgh’s exit after defeat to the Posh.

Dean Austin tried hard to turn things around and instilled a sense of fight and belief among the squad that we’d not seen all season. A 3-2 win at Bury and a 2-0 success at home to Plymouth gave us real hope that we could pull off a miraculous escape but everything evaporated thanks to Walsall’s last minute winner at the Bescot Stadium that all put sent us packing to League Two barring a miracle score line against Oldham on the final day. A 2-2 draw with the Latics took them down with us but the consolation would come from Austin being appointed full time thanks to the fight he gave the club in the final few weeks of a torrid season.

Transfers…

In: Andy Williams (Doncaster), Junior Morias (Peterborough), Hakeem Odoffin (Wolves), Lewis Ward (Reading)

Out: Richard O’Donnell (Bradford), Joe Bunney (Blackpool)

Promotion Odds…

11/4

Outlook…

It’s always difficult to predict your own team but the Cobblers could do well now that we seem to finally have a manager leading the way with a passion that rubs off on his players. The summer has seen Town going for quality over quantity in the transfer market with Austin not keen on breaking up a squad and starting again. The fact that he earnt the player’s respect at the end of last season gave him the chance to send them away over the summer knowing exactly what was expected of them and that should help us be much more combative this time around.

Once Junior Morias is fit we should have a great striker on our hands and Lewis Ward looks a safe pair of hands in goal. If we keep the squad fit we should pose most teams problems and compete for at least a playoff place.

Notts County

Last season…

County were the front runners early on in League Two last season. After losing their opening game, Kevin Nolan’s men won eight of their next nine games to accrue 25 points from 10 games and see them top the table. A 3-1 defeat at Mansfield finally ended their terrific run but the Magpies would stay right in contention through the autumn. A late penalty in the New Year’s Day victory over Port Vale put them in second place ahead of the second half of the season.

It was here that the league season began to get interrupted by progress in the FA Cup where County saw off Championship side Brentford to set up a Fourth Round tie with Premier League Swansea City at Meadow Lane. Back to back league defeats preceded that glamour game but the Magpies pulled off an excellent 1-1 draw to take the Swans back to the Liberty Stadium. The cup run would end in a dramatic 8-1 loss in Wales so it was back to the league for the final push for the top three.

A pivotal 1-0 loss at Accrington at the start of April looked to have knocked the stuffing out of their chances of automatic promotion and though they hit back with three straight wins, Jamille Matt’s stoppage time winner against them for Grimsby in the penultimate game meant that County had to settle for the playoffs.

Coventry City were the opponents for the semi-finals and a solid 1-1 draw at the Ricoh there was plenty of hope of reaching the Wembley showpiece. But a stunning away performance from the Sky Blues at Meadow Lane saw them win 4-1 and consign Nolan’s side to another season in League Two.

Transfers…

In: Kristian Dennis (Chesterfield), Andy Kellett (Wigan), Tom Crawford (Chester), Kane Hemmings (Oxford), Will Patching (Manchester City), Ben Hall (Brighton), David Vaughan (Nottingham Forest), Enzio Boldewijn (Crawley), Christian Oxlade-Chamberlain (Portsmouth)

Out: Jonathan Forte (Exeter), Carl Dickinson (Yeovil), Michael O’Connor (Lincoln), Adam Collin (Carlisle), Nathan Thomas (Sheff Utd), Nicky Hunt (Crewe)

Promotion Odds…

11/8

Outlook…

Kevin Nolan will have surely learned many lessons along the way to the playoffs last season and should come back with a renewed sense that this could be County’s year and the season that will come to define his early years as a league manager. Kristian Dennis brings with him an eye for goal that had him scoring regularly for Chesterfield despite their relegation and David Vaughan, signed from across the river at Nottingham Forest, could be that gem of experience they need. Enzio Boldewijn is another who can excite the Meadow Lane faithful after signing from Crawley for a six-figure fee.

County have the backing, squad and manager to really challenge again and should be challenging for promotion again come May,

Fight back unable to hide disappointing day in Wales…

Richards...late goal not enough

Richards…late goal not enough

Newport County 3-2 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, September 13th 2014

The Cobblers came very close to getting themselves out of jail once again on Saturday but a late fight back wasn’t enough to cover up some of the earlier deficiencies that led to a second league defeat of the season. Newport had raced into a three goal lead and it always looked as though if we were to complete a stunning turnaround it would have been rough justice on the home side who had convincingly come past a Cobblers side strangely off colour for three quarters of the game.

Perhaps it was the fact that the so far inspirational Kaid Mohammed had to stay at home after picking up a foot injury and Matt Duke was ruled out of a start through a thigh problem but if we’re relying on too many individuals to perform then any hopes of a run at the top end of the table this season may fade quickly.

There seemed a bit of imbalance in midfield with Darren Carter returning to fill in for Mohammed and the home side settled well and deserved their eighteenth minute lead. It was one of those thorns in our side that put the Exiles in front as well – Chris Zebroski always seems to find his way onto the score sheet when he takes on the Cobblers and he did so once again by scrambling in the opener.

After Joe Day pulled off a good save to deny Ivan Toney the home side took a two goal lead to leave us with even more to do. Darren Jones’ shot took a nick off Ryan Cresswell to sail past stand in keeper Jordan Archer and by half time we’d not done enough to force any kind of fight back.

Chris Wilder brought on John-Joe O’Toole and Danny Alfei at the break to try and re-shape but the next goal was always going to be a big one. Unfortunately it went to the Exiles as Lee Minshull met a free kick to head home and all but end the game as a contest.

To be fair to the Cobblers, we gave ourselves some hope at least. Third substitute Lawson D’Ath manoeuvred into position and blasted it home from distance for 3-1 with fifteen minutes to play. Ten minutes later and a grand stand finish was in the offing when Marc Richards scored his fifth of the season by converting Alfei’s cross. One final chance fell to John-Joe O’Toole but Day stood tall to deny him, meaning that the good mini-run we were on comes to an end.

That temporary bubble has now popped and we’re left trying to take the only real positive we can in that we fought back and could have nicked something where a year ago we would have undoubtedly rolled over. Only a proper bounce back will fully work us through this defeat, though, and luckily we have a big chance to do just that on Tuesday night and then again on Saturday with two home games hopefully providing us with just the tonic.

Consigning this to the history books, in other words, is the best bet before we go again back at Sixfields.

Newport County v Northampton Town: Match Preview

RP1

Newport County v Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, September 13th 2014

There’s a feeling of growing momentum with the Cobblers as we head to Newport this weekend. The last gasp victory over Exeter City was followed, last Saturday, by a solid and brilliantly produced success at Dagenham and Redbridge where a storming first half was followed by a tighter second that helped us to see out three more League Two points. Chris Wilder has put together an exciting and fluent side and it makes a big change for us to be going into weekends genuinely excited about the Cobblers’ prospects.

To continue this good will, a result at Newport will be required and we come up against a side that are finally getting a feel for this season. Justin Edinburgh’s men, in their second season back in the Football League, lost their opening four games in all competitions but the last three have seen them taking a point against highly fancied Burton Albion, win at promotion favourites Portsmouth and nicking a draw at home to Cambridge United in the final minute of the game.

The Exiles were a rare entity to us last season in that Town did the double over them by winning 3-1 at Sixfields in our opening home game and then 2-1 at Rodney Parade back in January under caretaker boss Andy King. This time out there should be less of a surprising feeling should we come away with something from South Wales and with two home games following it up there would be increased excitement should this little upturn in results and performances continue.

Wilder’s biggest problem, in a good way, is in team selection. By all accounts Joel Byrom and debutant Ryan Watson put in an excellent shift at Dagenham in the middle of the park with Ivan Toney and Marc Richards continuing their flourishing partnership up front so you’d still be hard pushed to make a case for John Joe O’Toole to start. Chris Hackett and Kaid Mohammed are providing the ammunition from both wings and are conjuring up some fantastic displays between them to spearhead attacks. They are pretty nailed on to keep their places whilst at the back you would think it’s as you were with Ryan Cresswell easing into the team for his debut at Dagenham too. Emile Sinclair is one to come back into the squad after coming through his ankle injury but Lee Collins and Evan Horwood are both still out.

Newport announced the loan signing of Joe Piggott from Charlton Athletic this week and the striker is set to make his debut against the Cobblers. Piggott came through the ranks at the Valley but has seen first team chances kept to a minimum so far having spent time on loan at Bromley and Gillingham in the last couple of years.

I don’t know about you but I’m enjoying this winning feeling and there’s no reason why it shouldn’t continue for another weekend if we can capture the very best from what’s been an altogether solid start to the season. Dizzy heights of optimism!

A Duke gives a King the fighting chance…

Carter...crucial winner

Carter…crucial winner

Newport County 1-2 Northampton Town

League Two

Saturday, January 4th 2014

Just as we thought we were on the brink of appointing a new manager, Andy King inspired the Cobblers to an away win that had eluded us for the majority of 2014 and, in the process, not just threw his name into the hat for the position but launched it direct into the brain of David Cardoza. It wasn’t just the result at Newport but the noticeable improvement in certain players and the team spirit from players that formed a patched up starting eleven once again that would have delighted the chairman and sent him home with much more food for thought.

Indeed, his latest interview indicates that King’s progress has given him much more time than he thought he had and Cardoza has challenged the players to keep up their performances if they want King to be the one to lead them to league safety and beyond. With all the names being thrown around, all the rumours flying through the Internet there’s only been passing thoughts for King but he’s gone about his work in tremendous spirits and not once have you had the impression that he’s a stop gap, or that he thinks of himself in that way. If he were to leave before the big home game with York City next weekend he would go with his head held high but I get the feeling that this win will have given him a big chance to be leading out the side for that one as well. It sounds as if a couple more players will be coming in this week from King’s contacts and he’s the man that’s gaining more and more momentum and trust in the race for the job.

This result wasn’t at all straight forward though and nor should it have been – Newport have held a position in and around the playoffs since we inflicted on them their first defeat since re-joining the league back in August. It took guts, flashes of quality and a late, late piece of goalkeeping heroicness to earn only a second away success of the season. It was tense but boy was it worth it once that final whistle went.

There were debuts for new loanees Hallam Hope and Antonio German who formed a new look strike force with Joe Widdowson missing out and replaced by Ben Tozer at left back. German would almost make it a dream start in Cobblers colours as he found space inside the area clipped in a deflected effort that came down off the cross bar.

The injury list grew further when Danny Emerton was taken off and David Moyo, a tad unfortunate to lose his starting place to the two new forwards, came on and soon after that the Cobblers were in front. Hallam Hope was played in by Moyo and the Everton loanee reacted quickest to his first shot being saved to put in a big debut goal.

Hope could have had another with a free header that sailed wide before Newport put a dent in our plans when Harry Worley climbed highest from a corner to nod in for 1-1 at the break.

That sort of setback could have had a real negative effect on the players but instead they rolled up their sleeves and really came back into it in the second half. Darren Carter, looking to rebuild his reputation with many of the Cobblers’ faithful, picked up the ball just outside the area and curled in a superb right footed effort into the corner of the net. If you’re hoping to get the Town fans back onside again then that’s a hell of a way to get started! Carter is one of those who has really underperformed since joining in the summer and he’ll be desperate to keep up this type of showing having been frozen out by Aidy Boothroyd.

The rest of the game was dominated by one man – Matt Duke. He’s been the star of a desperate season so far and proved his undoubted worth once again by first keeping out Robbie Willmott and then producing what could be a ‘moment of the season’ contender come May.

A questionable penalty was awarded on the right hand side after discussions between referee Fred Graham and his linesman and Andy Sandell stepped up. As we all held our breath expecting to be coming away with just a point, Duke pulled off a superb save down to his right and pushed the ball wide. That was enough to help the Cobblers to the three points that not only kick start 2014 but that ignites what will hopefully be a charge back out of the bottom two. Duke’s save was as timely as Neal Kitson’s back in the 2011 escape from trouble up at Crewe on his Town debut and could well turn out to be just as important.

For Andy King it means that a job offer may well be looked at in some capacity and it was a performance that will say a lot to the hierarchy making the big decisions in the coming weeks.

There’s the obvious argument that ‘it’s only one win’ and that’s completely valid but the very fact that King has taken charge of three tough away games and come away with four points is a credit to him. It gives Cardoza time to really assess the other candidates in comparison. King’s players, though, are doing everything they can to push his name further and further into the running.

Just the tonic!

O' Donovan...second of the season

O’ Donovan…second of the season

Northampton Town 3-1 Newport County

League Two

Saturday, August 10th 2013

That’ll do nicely! Though there are one or two cracks that still need a bit of TLC in the Cobblers ranks we are off the mark with a good home win that mustered the spirit of last season’s huge run of victories at Sixfields. The Cobblers didn’t have it all their own way by a long shot and Newport can come away with credit after threatening to continue a momentous first week back in the league but the main thing is those three points that get us up and running.

Today’s visitors were clearly in the mood to kick on and the hearty supporters that kept up the noise in the away end throughout the game were clearly still in celebratory mood no matter what the outcome. In truth they could have been taking home a lot more from this game had Matt Duke not been in inspired form once again.

Indeed the first twenty minutes belonged to the visitors with Duke called into action numerous times, first tipping Lee Collins’ wayward clearance over the bar and then touching Chris Zebroski’s header onto the woodwork. Max Porter blasted high and wide as the Exiles settled much better than a Cobblers side still trying to figure out their opponents’ wing back system.

It didn’t help that the defence had been shifted at the last minute thanks to Matt Heath picking up an injury in the warm up, meaning that Ben Tozer moved to centre back and Kevin Amankwaah slotted back in at right back. But gradually Town weathered the early storm and forged a way into the game.

Jacob Blyth had been putting himself a lot in the early going on his Cobblers debut and provided a new outlet that was desperately needed. His work in the air and in the simple touches gave the ever hard working Roy O’ Donovan a new lease of life to work from. Those two would give us the platform to completely reshape the game as the first half wore on.

First, a pin point cross from Ian Morris, captaining the side once again, was headed in powerfully by the leaping Blyth and the early nerves were suddenly wiped away. O’ Donovan then got on the end of another Morris pass to finish well from an angle and it was 2-0, sending the visitors into shock after they had found it so difficult to get past Duke at the other end.

The former Bradford keeper did well to save again from Zebroski as the half ended with the Cobblers’ two goal cushion intact.

The next goal was always going to be crucial and again Newport came out fighting and making the first moves. But once again the Cobblers grew into the game more and regained a sense of control that from then on in they never looked like surrendering. And the game was won with five minutes to play as Gary Deegan was found by substitute Ivan Toney and slotted in from distance for his first goal in Town colours.

There was to be a late consolation for the plucky County as Conor Washington raced past Ben Tozer on the Cobblers right and finished into the roof of the net but it was too late to put any real fear into even the most negative of home fans.

So it was that we collected our first three points of the season and that in itself is a massive boost ahead of the tough trip to Southend next weekend.

Tozer...centre back role

Tozer…centre back role

Some key points I took from my first viewing of Town this season:

Matt Duke was outstanding and will be the difference more than once during this campaign. He makes every wonder save look like it’s routine for him and is becoming a hero once again after his first spell at Sixfields went just as well.

Kevin Amankwaah is also becoming a cult figure after just a couple of outings. He’s strong in the tackle, technically sound and you just don’t know what he’s going to do next. We’re going to be entertained by his tenure at right back if nothing else. Nowhere near Pedj Bojic standard just yet but you can tell he’s going to be one to watch!

BEN TOZER IS A CENTRE BACK! He proved again today that if you put him in his preferred position then he’ll be solid. Putting him in the middle of the park or at right back usually puts him on the first bus to scapegoat city but at centre back he looks more than a long throw machine. I even clapped some of the things he did, though the organisation and occasional holes in there need sorting before we come up against more punishing front lines.

The midfield looks more cohesive. Darren Carter and Gary Deegan look a better fit than the Harding/Guttridge partnership of last season and both bring different genuine qualities to the table. Deegan took his goal well whilst Carter had a decent game alongside him.

Ian Morris as captain? Yes, it does actually work. I wasn’t easily convinced before the game but that was unfair of me before seeing him in action. Morris doesn’t have the great presence of a skipper but his hard work and communication was good. The fact that he was voted into the position by his peers says a lot.

Jacob Blyth looks a good loan signing and definitely an improvement on some of the temporary gap plugging forwards we’ve had in the last couple of years. He’s got a real presence about him and rose above everyone to power in his headed goal. Big potential there and a step up on other options at this time.

Roy O’Donovan is reminding me more and more of Scott McGleish and that can only be a good thing. The Irishman shone, especially given that he had a big man to work off again rather than having to lead the line alone. He’s going to be crucial to this season and could turn out to be this season’s Alex Nicholls, though hopefully without the leg break!

All in all, a good day’s work and we have to try and take this on to Southend where Aidy Boothroyd will likely revert back to 4-5-1. Today’s performance, in attack particularly, may yet change his mind, though.

 

Northampton Town v Newport County: Match Preview

sixfieldsNorthampton Town v Newport County

League Two

Saturday, August 10th 2013

Two defeats to kick off the season and more questions than answers for the Cobblers so far and now we must try to get off the mark against a Newport County team buzzing from a stunning opening to their first campaign back in the Football League.

Since culminating a twenty five year journey back to the league with a Playoff Final victory over Wrexham back in May, the Exiles have returned with a bang thanks to two eye catching results. First, a 4-1 romp over James Beattie’s Accrington Stanley kicked off the league season in style last weekend with new signing Chris Zebroski netting a brace.

And that wasn’t the end of a perfect first few days for the club as they went to Championship side Brighton and Hove Albion on Tuesday night and came through 3-1 after extra-time to win a place in Round Two of the Capital One Cup. That result set up a Second Round tie at Premier League side West Bromwich Albion but Justin Edinburgh’s side will be looking to keep up the positive league start first and foremost, beginning at Sixfields on Saturday afternoon.

Edinburgh, previously known in the county for his tenure at Rushden and Diamonds, has led County into the league and is slowly making a name for himself in management having played at the top level with Tottenham Hotspur. This is his first shot at management in the Football League and it’s one he’s settling into well so far.

All of that points to a tough first home league game for the Cobblers and if we’re to get off the mark in League Two it’s going to take a big effort as the season begins to roll out.

 

Team News…

The Cobblers welcomed back Chris Hackett and Clive Platt to training this week but neither will be risked for this game. Darren Carter should come back in after serving a one match ban against MK Dons so Aidy Boothroyd will need to decide on whether to stick with the 4-5-1 formation favoured at York or to revert to the 4-4-2 used on Tuesday night in which JJ Hooper made a first start for the club. Town could also hand a debut to Jacob Blyth after the Leicester City striker signed a one month loan deal on Friday afternoon.

Newport will be without Byron Anthony who was captaining the side at Brighton on Tuesday but was stretchered off with a double fracture of his right ankle after a challenge from Inigo Calderon. (More to follow)

 

Previous Meetings…

The two sides have never met during the last twenty five years and this ‘version’ of Newport County with the last game between the two clubs coming in the 1977/78 F.A. Cup when the Cobblers were 2-1 winners at the old County Ground. Town would exit the competition in the next round at home to Brighton and Hove Albion.

 

The man in the middle…

The official taking charge on Saturday at Sixfields is Mark Heywood who last refereed a Cobblers game in a 3-2 home defeat by Cheltenham Town in August 2011.

 

Prediction…

Newport are coming into this with bags of confidence after their landmark week back in the Football League and in the Capital One Cup. We have to blast away those Wembley blues and though it’s going to be a really tough game I think we can nick this to finally get up and running. 2-1

Fan Feature: Newport County

newportThis Saturday we welcome Newport County to Sixfields for the first time after the Exiles made their triumphant return to the league for the first time since a reincarnation of sorts in 1989. After the demise of the original Newport County in February of that year, around 400 supporters reformed the club in time for the 1989-90 season in which they began a new life in the Hellenic League, four levels below the Football League. I spoke to County fan Andy Lawrence about the rise of the new look Exiles and their transition to life back in the league.

“It’s very hard to put into words just how much it means to everyone involved with the club,” he said, “It’s been a roller coaster to say the least. To think 25 years of fighting all came down to 90 mins of football against our rivals Wrexham was unbelievable, but sometimes these stories write themselves and I think it was a case of “fate” to do it in the manner we did. When I was a little boy my dad would tell me stories of the famous European nights and beating west ham 2-1, and I remember thinking ….Would we ever get back to where we belong ?  Sadly there are a few County fans that have passed away in recent years and didn’t get to witness the achievements we have made.”

Andy names league titles, promotions and, of course, last season’s Playoff Final as personal highlights during that time:

“There have been some great highlights over the years, but I think the last 4-5 years have been the most memorable. Firstly, winning the Conference south with 103 points and breaking nearly every record in the book. We only lost 3 games that season so as you can imagine it was a good year to be a County fan. Secondly obviously has to be last season. The previous season was a struggle and we just about survived relegation, so the heroics of last season were unexpected in many ways. We didn’t drop out of the top 5 all season and I genuinely believe that our horrendous fixture pile up cost us the title, but who wants to win it the boring way? So we got promoted the “hard way” which over the years I have renamed the “County way”, seeing off Grimsby town 2-0 over the two legs and finally silencing the doubters at Wembley beating Wrexham 2-0 in the Play Off final.”

The man leading the charge back into the league is a well-known figure in these parts. Justin Edinburgh cut his managerial teeth down the road at Rushden and Diamonds between 2009 and 2011 and took the now defunct outfit to the Conference playoffs in 2010 before losing his job when the club folded in 2011. But by October of that year the former Tottenham defender was back in management and hasn’t looked back since.

“Justin is terrific,” says Andy, “The best manager I have ever seen at County. What he has achieved over the last 18 months has been nothing short of a miracle, and you get the feeling he’s not done yet in order of how far he can take us! Tactically he is a genius and I always have confidence in his decisions and signings.”

“Adam Chapman has been the “catch” of the summer. We had him on loan a few seasons ago and I think his decision to join us permanently was down to Justin and how good a manager he is. His passing is his strong point, and he’s the sort of player that can make the pass to change the game. Harry Worley is another who has joined this season and I was over the moon as soon as I found out. He’s a strong, solid centre back who’s dominant in the air and he’s light on his feet too, which is a bonus.”

So with a litter of good summer signings and the momentum from last season, how far can the Exiles go this time around?

Andy says,

“I think we will probably finish around 10th this season, I always have this feeling that perhaps we can upset the odds and perhaps sneak the play offs but I’m going to keep my feet on the ground for now and say 10th.”

And, of course, a prediction for Saturday’s game?

“I’ve looked at this game as one where we find out just how good we are. The win against Accrington was brilliant but they are relegation candidates so we can’t read too much into that. This is going to be a very tough game for both us, so I’m going to say we will draw 1-1.”

Big thanks to Andy for his thoughts. You can follow him on Twitter @gingelawrence

 

Newport County links

Official Website: http://www.newport-county.co.uk/

Forum: http://www.the-exiles.co.uk/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/newportcountyafc

Twitter: https://twitter.com/NewportCounty

Wiki: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Newport_County_A.F.C.

BBC Pages: http://www.bbc.co.uk/sport/football/teams/newport-county

South Wales Argus Pages: http://www.southwalesargus.co.uk/sport/football/newportcounty/

Still searching for hangover cure

Boothroyd...looking to clear the Wembley smoke

Boothroyd…looking to clear the Wembley smoke

It’s not been the start we’d hoped for has it? Back to back defeats at the hands of York City and then MK Dons weren’t exactly the tonic needed for the Wembley blues. I personally would have prescribed  a 3-0 trouncing of the Minstermen and then an upset of the Dons to kick start a campaign that badly needed to wipe away the smoke of the showpiece day out turned bad from May. But the Cobblers still haven’t go over that Wembley hangover and with ‘top of the table’ and momentum builders Newport County in town for the first home league game of the season on Saturday it’s a tough test for us to blow away the cobwebs.

Aidy Boothroyd has revealed that he told the players to all bring in something from the Wembley disaster on the first day of pre-season, be it a programme, ticket stub or anything of that ilk. He then created a bonfire and threw all of those items on it to theoretically put it behind them. An excellent idea but it seems there’s still some smoke hanging around.

The first two games could be dismissed as an unlucky ten man defeat and a half expected reverse against a side a league above our level but concerns are growing about the lack of a Bayo replacement and the mixed messages coming as to whether we are indeed going for another striker or settling for what we have in Clive Platt, Roy O’ Donovan and youngsters David Moyo, Ivan Toney and JJ Hooper.

I like Roy and can see him bagging his fair share of goals given a full campaign. He was unlucky not to score at York and took our first goal of the season well against the Dons on Tuesday night. Platt splits opinion as most big strikers do but his performances will be key. If he can somehow turn around the masses calling for something better then it won’t be a bad first choice partnership at all. What we can’t do is get on his back just because he’s Clive Platt. The younger lads need a chance but I would be looking to bring in something more ‘now’ if I were Boothroyd right now.

At the end of the day, though, it’s down to him and we must get right behind whoever it is wearing the claret shirt. There’s a reason why Boothroyd has the job and there’s a reason why he managed to steer us to Wembley in the first place.

A nice hangover cure on Saturday would be just the thing to get the positivity back and to finally erase the smoke from that Wembley bonfire.