Newport County meeting the opposition.

Newport County – meeting the opposition.

Tranmere travel to South Wales on Saturday afternoon looking for their first win in four games, having blown a lead late on last weekend against Port Vale. They seemed to be in control of that fixture until a late header stopped the game finishing 1-0, after defeats on the road to Walsall and Hartlepool.

Newport go into the fixture on the back of a harsh run of form themselves, drawing their last two with the two previous encounters ending in defeats. However, the goal scoring ability that they possess has been made evident in their last two home games – scoring four goals, three coming against Oldham Athletic two weeks ago.

Ahead of the game, I spoke to @1912Exiles about County and their podcast in general. I asked them about the 2019 League Two Play Off Final, they made sure to move the conversation swiftly on.

What were your expectations going into the season and what are they now as we’ve just entered the second half of the campaign? 

Boss James Rowberry was appointed last year, how would you describe his time at the club so far and are you optimistic about the future with him at the helm? Touching on managerial matters slightly away from Newport, do you think Michael Flynn will be a success at Walsall following his time at County?

It’s been a funny season for County. We started with a hangover from May’s playoff defeat to Morecambe, and rumours that Michael Flynn was unhappy in his role as manager and would depart. Despite a solid start to the season on the pitch, Flynn departed at the beginning of October, having apparently served his notice period and seeking a fresh start elsewhere (he has now taken the reins at Walsall, winning his first game at the weekend against Forest Green Rovers). The relationship between Flynn and the Newport fans feels a bit like that between a jilted lover and an ex – we say we’re over him and have moved on, but we’re keeping a close eye on how he does and most of us want him to succeed. It was probably the right decision for both parties, and hopefully County and Flynn can go on to be successful without the other.

Having lost one home-grown local legend, County promptly went out and recruited a direct replacement in James Rowberry – formerly a coach at Cardiff City, but more to the point ‘a proper Newport boy’ who grew up in the area and has strong connections to the club. It’s early days, but he has got us playing exciting, attacking football and results have been solid. There’s a feeling that the disruption of the managerial change, combined with defensive frailties, may put promotion slightly beyond us this season – but you wouldn’t rule out having a late surge. Either way, we’re great to watch and most of us are just enjoying the ride.

Who are the owners of The Exiles and what is their current relationship with the fanbase like? Are there any current projects worth keeping an eye on from neutrals?

We are! As a fan-owned, fan-run club, County are living the dream. True, we can’t rely on a rich sugar-daddy to fund signings and bankroll promotion, but virtue brings its own reward as they say, and most of us are very proud to be a sustainably-run side living within our means. On the pod, we recently ran a three-part series exploring club ownership, dodgy financing in football and how clubs can be run in the fans’ interests, and it really drove home the point that ultimately it is only the fans who can be trusted to have their team’s long-term interests at heart. As for projects, most of us would say that the priority has to be securing a stake in Rodney Parade so that it can be a home in perpetuity for both County and the Newport Gwent Dragons rugby clubs, with both teams having an equal share. That may take some doing.

Who would you say are your side’s stand out players and where will the key battles be on Saturday afternoon?

Only one answer to this: Dom Telford! The man is a machine, netting 23 goals in the league already this season, having barely got a game last year. It’s come out of nowhere, and no doubt he’ll be plying his trade at a higher level than Div 4 next year, but he’s on fire. Behind him, our trio of “fizzy midfielders” have been exceptional – loanees Ollie Cooper (from Swansea), Finn Azaz (from Aston Villa) and Jake Cain (from Liverpool) are all confident and comfortable with the ball at their feet and have given us the creativity we lacked at times last season. Defence is more problematic.

How do you see the upcoming battle panning out, score prediction etc, and do you believe this game will pose different questions than the previous encounter (A 1-0 victory for the visitors at Prenton Park in August) did? If so, why?

County come into this with just two points from 12, and it feels like we’re playing all of the form sides in the division at the same time. If we can keep ourselves in the mix, things get easier for us from mid-March onwards, but at the moment it’s hard going. A gutsy draw with Mansfield in our last game showed character – they’ve been the best side at Rodney Parade so far this season, but once we figured them out we gave them a good game. Tranmere will be a different proposition, but at this stage I’d take a point. Tranmere always bring a good crowd, and I hope you have a great day apart from the result!

What starting eleven will be selected by Rowberry and what do you believe will be his opted style of play for the ninety minutes?

We’ve tended to play a 5-3-2 with wing-backs, although we’ve switched successfully when required (sometimes mid-match) to a 4-4-2. Either way, we tend to play a holding midfielder in front of the back line to try and get the ball to those “fizzy midfielders” who will then seek to set up Dom Telford. Watch out also though for our No 10, Courtney Baker-Richardson, who has an incredible workrate and will cover half the pitch to win the ball back for his team.

I normally ask, in these features, for the stand out games between the two sides. However, I think the most obvious mention will be the 2019 League Two Play Off Final. What sort of impact do you think this game had on Newport? Also, are there any other games/moments that you’d like to mention?

Sorry, still can’t talk about that playoff final defeat! You edged it on the day, but it was an insipid game and not a memory on which I’d want to dwell. As for other matches, I might have mentioned it when I did our last preview, but for me the most memorable game between the sides was when we came to yours in September 2018 and won 1-0. Fraser Franks scored early on and then we defended for 85 minutes solid – it was like the Alamo back there, and a thoroughly undeserved three points, but exactly what you want from a long away trip! Afterwards, Tranmere fans were surprisingly gracious, and my eldest son and I stayed in a camping pod on a llama farm in the Wirral to cap a memorable weekend!

Touching on the transfers that The Exiles were able to complete in the January transfer window. Would you say that you’re happy with the incomings and outgoings overseen by the recently appointed manager during his first transfer window?

Most of the transfer window was stripping out the dead wood. We’d over-recruited in the summer, so we shipped out some players who were surplus to requirements and sent a crop of young players off to get loan games in non-league. In terms of players in, the pick of the bunch has been centre-half Josh Pask, on loan from Coventry City, who looks like he has potential. If we were able to keep hold of him, he looks like he could be a quicker option than many of our existing defenders and someone who can bring the ball out from the back. The summer window will be much more important for us, as Rowberry stamps his mark on the side.

Rodney Parade is where the game this weekend will be played out, a stadium that is owned and operated by the Welsh Rugby Union.

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