Newport County – Meeting The Opposition.
Tranmere v Newport is a fixture that will be forever remembered by some for Conor Jenning’s last minute headed winner in the 2019 League Two Play Off Final. The two clubs will again meet, this time at Prenton Park, on 21st August for another League Two encounter. Thus, I spoke to @1912Exiles about County and a range of other relevant subjects ahead of a game which will be very close in quality at an early stage of the 21-22 campaign.
How long have you been a Newport supporter and how did you first come across the club?
I moved to South Wales in 2001 and started following County a couple of years later, when we were founder members of the Conference South and playing in front of crowds of about 600-800, at a windswept athletics stadium in the middle of an industrial estate. Compared to County fans of an older vintage, who saw us wound up and then having to restart life playing in Gloucestershire because of a legal wrangle with the FAW, I was very fortunate – even more so given that over the last two decades, we haven’t been relegated, have won two promotions to regain our place in the Football League, and have played five times at Wembley! The good times won’t last forever, but hopefully we’re not done yet on the incredible rollercoaster that is life as a Newport County supporter.
Having a look back at last season, how would you say it went in terms of expected success and how will the upcoming campaign be different? What are your expectations/predictions/ambitions for the next ten months?
Speaking of rollercoasters, last season had everything. We charged off into an early lead and were top in December before losing key loan signings Scott Twine and Brandon Cooper. Without Twine’s flair (and goals) and Cooper’s defensive solidity, we unravelled spectacularly in January and February and couldn’t buy a win. Our pitch woes further added to our misery, resulting in us having to play a couple of games at Cardiff City’s ground. Thankfully, Mike Flynn stopped the rot and we rediscovered our early-season form to end up as the form team going into the playoffs – only to lose at Wembley to a penalty-that-never-was (it was a dive, and outside the box) against Morecambe.
This season, we’d love to have another crack at promotion, but losing Josh Sheehan (to Bolton) and Joss Labadie (to Walsall) leaves our midfield lacking two talismanic players so there’s a lot of pressure on the new signings. Critical to any success will be a bit more creativity in the middle of the park – with it, we’ll be Top 7 again, but without it we’ll be mid-table.
What are your thoughts on gaffer Michael Flynn? He has been County manager since 2017, guiding the Exiles out on to the Wembley turf in the League Two Play Off Final against Tranmere two years later.
With the budget and the players at his disposal, most County fans will lavish nothing but praise on Mike Flynn. Not only did he keep us up in 2017 against all the odds (we were 11 points adrift when he took over), he has since provided us with countless wonderful (and lucrative) cup runs, some spectacular memories, two playoff finals and – last season – a much more attractive brand of football than County have played for years. His signings have been the proverbial curate’s egg, but with a new Sporting Director to help him, there’s hope that we might finally achieve that elusive promotion to the Third Division.
What are your thoughts on the way that the club is run? The owners in particular, who are they and how long have they been at the club?
We are the owners, so we think we’re wonderful! As a fan-owned club, there’s no easy answer when the team needs a new striker or a loan signing to provide cover – if we want it, ultimately we’re the ones who have to pay for it. But the club is being run sustainably and is living within its means, which is undoubtedly a good thing. The biggest challenge we face (like many clubs) is not owning our ground – we share Rodney Parade with the Newport Gwent Dragons, which not only puts the pitch under pressure, but also restricts County’s ability to maximise non-matchday income. That’s the biggest long-term challenge we face.
What players will pose the greatest threats to Tranmere at Prenton Park? From afar, how much of an influence to the team do you think Mellon will have on his return in comparison to the one that Keith Hill had? In general, what are your thoughts on Tranmere as a club and where do you think they will finish come May?
Despite the pain of losing to you at Wembley, I have a lot of time for Tranmere – you’re a ‘proper club’, with great fans and a magnificent ground. Last time I came to Prenton Park was in your promotion season where we scored early and then defended for our lives for 85 minutes to get a thoroughly undeserved 1-0 win, which your fans took extremely magnanimously in the circumstances. I then stayed in a camping pod on a llama farm in the Wirral with my son, which made for a memorable weekend! I’d expect you to be top half this season, but beyond that it’s very hard to make predictions in Div 4.
What is your score prediction and how do you think Flynn will address this game from a tactical perspective?
We’d be delighted with an away point. At this stage, it’s too early to really get a sense of how good we are – if we can score, we’ll be okay, but that’s by no means a given. I’ll say a 1-0 win, but I don’t know to whom!
Random fact about Newport?
There are a few good ones:
- As a city, Newport boasts one of only ten transporter bridges in the world – well worth a visit if you have time to kill ahead of our game in February!
- The visionary rap group and Newport boys Goldie Lookin’ Chain sponsored County’s home shirt for the wonderful but short-lived FAW Premier Cup in 2004/5.
- Not a fact as much as a tip, but when your fans visit later in the season, I can recommend Ye Olde Murenger House as the best pre-match pub in Newport for anyone who likes a ‘proper’ pre-match boozer; the Tiny Rebel bar opposite is also excellent.
What are your worst and greatest experiences whilst supporting the club?
Worst was probably losing to Morecambe in May – it still hurts. When we lost to Tranmere two years previously, I felt the better side had one on the day even if a few decisions went against us, and that season qualifying for the playoffs was an unexpected bonus. Last season, I felt we had done enough to earn promotion and dominated the game at Wembley. It deserved to be won by something better than a disgraceful penalty decision.
The best would probably be any one of our recent cup scalps – for me, even though we didn’t win it, drawing against (and nearly beating) Spurs at home in 2018 was incredible and made me burst with pride at how far we had come as a club.
The game may see a return to the Wirral for Kevin Ellison. However, considering he was a trialist for the club at some point during this summer, what are your thoughts on his contract renewal and how do you think the club have done in terms of player turnover in pre-season?
He has now signed on for another year, but in a player-coach role. I think County fans are delighted to have him back – partly because he’s a useful option from the bench, but mostly because he’s an incredible ambassador for the club, doing so much great community work and being a wise old head for our crop of young players. More generally, over the summer we probably lost the players we expected to lose and kept most of the ones we wanted to keep (Labadie being the exception). It’s too early to say how well the new signings will do, but there are some good options there, and most of us expect this season to be the one where Lewis Collins (who came through the ranks at County) will really make his mark on Div 4.
‘When we lost against Tranmere, I felt that the better side had won even if I also felt that a few officiating decisions went against us’