Newport County meeting the opposition.

NEWPORT COUNTY MTO.

Following the goalless draw in the North East against Hartlepool United, Micky Mellon’s Tranmere are back on the road as they travel to South Wales to face Newport County. The Whites have had a poor time away from home during the last year but after a relatively positive two games they will be hoping to maintain their form.

Ahead of the game, I spoke to Ed Bridges from @1912Exiles, on all things regarding The Exiles. 

Last season, County finished eleventh in League Two. How do you reflect on the 2021-22 campaign as a whole?

A season of three thirds! We were bang average for the first few months, struggling for consistency and not sure of our best XI. After Mike Flynn left for Walsall, and particularly following James Rowberry’s appointment as his successor, we had a bounce and were unplayable for the best part of four months, looking creative and exciting mostly thanks to a trio of bright young loanees in midfield and 25-goal-striker Dom Telford (all of whom have now sadly departed). We then fell away in the last two months of the season, limping home to an eleventh placed finish, which felt like slim rewards for our efforts, but the table doesn’t lie.

This summer, five players have been brought to Rodney Parade and among these signings is Tranmere academy graduate Declan Drysdale. Are you happy with the business that the club has done in the off-season? Would you say that there are still some positions that need to be strengthened? If so, which positions would they be?

Unlike previous years, we got our transfer business done early, which settled some nerves. On paper, the signings look good: Adam Lewis (LB, on loan from Liverpool), Aaron Wildig (MF, free transfer from Morecambe) and Declan Drysdale (DC, free transfer from Coventry) are probably the names which have got people most excited – but we’ve also signed some young talent in Sam Bowen (MF) and Chanka Zimba (SC) from Cardiff City. Four games in though, there’s a feeling that we haven’t quite settled yet – the young players need to find their feet at this level, and many of the loan players didn’t get a full pre-season with the team. I doubt we’ll know our best XI until mid-/late-September. On Drysdale specifically, he’s settled reasonably well but blotted his copybook by getting sent off at Bradford last Saturday (so may miss the game against Tranmere depending on the length of the ban).

37-year-old James Rowberry was appointed manager in October 2021 stating that he had ‘big shoes to fill’ following Michael Flynn’s time at the club. Is the future bright with Rowberry at the helm? What is his playing style? 

James Rowberry has generally played a 5-3-2 with wing-backs, but occasionally has played a 4-4-2. Either way, the key last season was having a dynamic and energetic midfield who would press high, force mistakes and then counterpunch by surging forwards. We can expect more of the same this season, but it may take a few months for that to bed in with so many new faces. We keep the ball well on the deck, which makes a refreshing change from a few seasons back when we played a much more agricultural brand of football.

Newport County are a unique club in the sense that they are owned by their supporters. However, Gavin Foxall is the chairman. What are some of the greatest things that Foxall has brought to the club and would you say that being owned by the supporters’ trust brings any challenges?

The way it works at Newport is that members of the Supporters’ Trust elect the people we want to represent us, and they then appoint to the Board of the football club. It’s not as direct a system of democracy as many of us would like – but in reality, we’ve not been deluged by people wanting to put themselves up for election, so the result has sometimes been uncontested elections and apathy. Having said that, the club has managed to remain incredibly well-run even amidst the challenges of COVID, consistently turning a profit and staying sustainable. At a time when so many clubs at our level are beholden to charlatans, capricious celebrities or crypto-nonces, Newport County are a model of prudence. It may not be sexy, but by god it’s reassuring.

Who would you say are your side’s key players and where will the key battles lie come Saturday afternoon? Touching on the strengths that the side has, which league position do you view as a realistic ambition for this season?

Of the established players, Cameron Norman at right-back (or wing-back) creates an awful lot down our right-hand side and represents a key threat. In midfield, the diminutive James Waite can be a bit of an ‘angry wasp’ in the centre of the park, full of energy and covering a lot of ground; it doesn’t always lead to something, but he has proved capable of scoring eye-catching goals. At this stage, on the evidence we have, I think many of us are expecting another mid-table season – but it’d be great to have a cup run or two to get the blood pumping.

How do you see the upcoming game panning out? What is your score prediction? The last time the two clubs met was in late February 2022, County came out on top with a 4-2 victory.

There’s a lot of nervous expectation around the place. We haven’t won a home game since 5 March – we may put that right midweek against Salford, but if not then the atmosphere at Rodney Parade could be unpredictable. We’re always optimistic on the pod though, so I’m saying we’ll have stuffed the plastic parvenus from Salford and will eke out a steady 1-0 win against Rovers.

If you have been keeping up with Rovers this summer, what are your thoughts on their business and how do you believe The Whites will do as they have recently adopted and favoured a back five system? 

I’m afraid that my pre-season research on our opponents extends as far as reading the When Saturday Comes season preview, which predicted you’d go up through the playoffs this season and also waxed lyrical about Elliott Nevitt. I always enjoy our games against Tranmere (Wembley notwithstanding), and I can’t help but feel that – like Bradford – this level is slightly beneath you. So I’ll settle for you getting promoted as long as we can take six points off you on the way. Fair?

Newport County play at Rodney Parade, the last time Tranmere travelled here they were defeated 1-0 as Alex Fisher netted the winner. 

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