Newport County A.F.C meeting the opposition

Tranmere Rovers travel to Newport County on Saturday afternoon, looking to get back to winning ways. 

Nigel Adkins’ side last won on 16th March away at arch-rivals Wrexham as defeats to Crawley, Bradford and Walsall have followed. 

The SWA are looking forward to the summer, when this dismal campaign is finished, and work has already started at the club as two players have extended their contracts this week: Goalkeeper Joe Murphy and Striker Harvey Saunders. 

Newport will also be looking to win a game, having lost all of their last five. However, as seen at Valley Parade (other examples are available!) Rovers don’t fare well against team’s who need their form to be changed! 

Ahead of the game, I spoke to 1912 Exiles’ Ed Bridges. 

When did you start supporting Newport County? What was your first experience of the club like?

My first game was back in October 2004 when I saw us beat North Leigh of the Southern League in an FA Cup replay at Spytty Park, our old ground, 6-2. County were a Conference South club at the time, playing in a council-owned athletics stadium in an unloved industrial estate on the edge of town. What it lacked in glamour and quality it made up for in goals and entertainment, and I kept coming back for more.

It has to be said that we’ve moved on a lot in the 20 years since then – crowds have increased from 600-800 to more like 4,000 and we now play at Rodney Parade which we share with the local rugby team. It’s a much better prospect – it’s a city-centre ground, a short walk from the best pubs and restaurants, and has much better transport links. It also boasts clean modern facilities on one side with a historic, atmospheric old stand and terrace on the other, meaning there’s something for everyone.

What have been some of your best and worst moments as a Newport fan? The club won the Conference Premier Play-Offs in 2013, beating Wrexham 2-0 to return back to the Football League for the first time in 25 years.

The promotions have been fun, but for many of us our recent pedigree as a cup team has probably been the best part of being a County fan. Beating the likes of Leicester, Leeds and Middlesbrough, and giving the likes of Spurs, Man Utd and Man City a scare, have left some incredible memories as well as leading to a new generation of County fans coming along and taking an interest.

Next month it will have been five years on from the League Two Play-Off Final between Newport and Tranmere. What are your thoughts on The Exiles’ last five years? Would you have liked more progress to have been made throughout this campaign?

Some County fans still grumble about decisions in that game, but you were the better team and we’d have come straight back down even if we had prevailed on the day. The game two years later, where we got done at Wembley by Morecambe and some truly awful officiating, is the one that sticks in our collective craw as that felt like a real chance to progress. 

We’ve had a few ups and downs in the intervening years, but we’re still here and plugging away. If Mansfield go up then we’d be the longest-serving club left in the Fourth Division, and that’s no mean feat.

Could you tell us a little bit about the 1912 Exiles Podcast and the content you have been able to produce recently?

We’ve been going for six seasons now, and every year we grow a little bigger and – we think – a little better. We’ve turned out fifty episodes this season; some are long-form panel discussions whilst others are short match diaries and we also have the odd special episode looking at broader challenges facing lower-league clubs. We just make the content that interests us, and then hope that others enjoy listening in. So far, so good!

Where does Newport’s nickname ‘The Exiles’ come from?

After the original Newport County FC went bust in 1989, we were the original phoenix club, with Newport AFC (later Newport County AFC) rising out of the ashes following the efforts of supporters. Quite rightly, we wanted to continue to compete in the same football pyramid as the original club, but the Football Association of Wales, in their wisdom, said that any new club in Wales had to compete in the Welsh system. So whilst we challenged that ruling, the club played its matches in exile over the border in Gloucestershire, in order to start at the bottom rung and work our way upwards. Hence “The Exiles”. Eventually, following a High Court ruling in 1995, the FAW were forced to relent and allow County (and a number of other clubs) to play in Wales whilst competing in the English pyramid.

Huw Jenkins, the former chairman of Swansea City A.F.C who oversaw the club’s rise from English football’s fourth tier to the Premier League, is the majority shareholder of Newport, having purchased 52% of the club in late January 2024. How has his time at the club been so far and how important is it that 27% of the club is still owned by the supporters trust?

It’s early days, but he’s won plaudits for saying little and doing a lot. The behind-the-scenes picture has improved, with better comms and marketing already evident, and some of the club’s historical debt has been reduced. We’re not going to be throwing money around a la Wrexham, but hopefully we’ll get back onto a sustainable footing with more joined-up thinking between the football team, rugby team and the stadium that is home to both. 

The Supporters’ Trust is in a period of flux following the takeover, with the need for some fresh faces and thinking as it defines and promotes its role in the new setup.

49-year-old Graham Coughlan was appointed manager in late October 2022. What are your thoughts on the Dublin-born gaffer who had previously been at Bristol Rovers and Mansfield Town?

We love a bit of Cocko! If you Googled “no nonsense Fourth Division manager”, he’s what would come up. Honest, down-to-earth and fiercely determined, he was exactly what we needed when he arrived to take the helm at a club that was in serious danger of getting sucked into a relegation scrap. His “crawl, walk, run” philosophy wasn’t pretty to watch, but we ground out results to finish well clear of danger last year and then he has built on it this year to bring us towards mid-table despite having the lowest budget in the league and an absolute plague of serious injuries. Whether he is what Mr Jenkins wants in the long-term remains to be seen, and Cocko himself may prefer a job closer to his Yorkshire home if one comes up, but most County fans have a high opinion of him and think he’ll continue to improve us if he’s still here next season.

How would you describe Coughlan’s playing style which seems to consist of either a 433 or 352 formation?

Pretty much always a 5-3-2 with wingbacks. Occasionally we experiment with a 4-3-3 but not usually to good effect. When we’ve got a first-choice XI available (which has happened about twice this season), we use those wing-backs to drive us forward, counter quickly and feed the front men. Due to injuries, we’re having to adapt currently with those attacking wing-back options unavailable. Expect Tranmere to have a lot of possession but face a high press and high workrate. If you can deal with that, you’ll win – if you can’t, you’re buggered.

Would you be able to give us a quick run through your favoured eleven at the moment?

Ha! Have we got eleven fit players? Honestly, predicting our lineup currently is a mug’s game. Our entire squad is either crocked, knackered or both. Even in goals, where Nick Townsend has been phenomenal all season, we saw a change on Tuesday night with backup keeper Jonny Maxted being given minutes. The only thing for certain is that the XI who do get picked will be under a lot of pressure to deliver after five straight defeats.

The last time the two club’s met was in early December at Prenton Park as Tranmere came from behind, following a 22nd minute strike by Will Evans, to win 2-1 with goals from Kieron Morris and Connor Jennings. What were your thoughts on that game?

I went back and listened to our episode from that game (it was only eight minutes long, which tells you what you need to know about how County fans viewed the match). Adkins hadn’t long been confirmed as permanent manager at that point, if memory serves, and there was a sense going into it that your lot were on the up and we were having a mixed bag of form. It was a strong team we put out that day and we fully deserved to take the lead – but as has often been the case this season, we took our eye off things and conceded and then lost all confidence and composure. We were only behind for about five minutes, but can’t really say your lot didn’t deserve the points.

Newport’s squad features two former Rovers players and both are centre backs! How have Kyle Jameson and Declan Drysdale been getting on in South Wales? I would’ve liked 24-year-old Tranmere youth product Drysdale to stay on The Wirral for a bit longer than he did!

Both have done well when fit – which is a label that can apply to 90% of the squad. Jameson in particular has really impressed recently, leading the back line and showing a real appetite to compete. Drysdale often has an error in him, but at times he’s been having to play with unfamiliar faces around him so I wouldn’t judge him too harshly.

In the January window, it was only 26-year-old Welsh Striker Luke Jephcott from St Johnstone that was signed on a permanent deal. How has he been playing and would you have liked more signings to have been made?

Early days. Many of us think he has been signed as a long-term replacement for Will Evans (see below), and it’ll take him a while to get fit, match-sharp and attuned to our system. He got rave reviews from Plymouth and Swindon fans, but his move north clearly didn’t work out. He’s only started one game so far; the rest of his appearances have been from the bench. He needs a goal to get himself settled, but it’ll come. The focus is more on having a good summer of recruitment and retention now we have a solid nucleus in the squad.

Will Evans is the club’s top goalscorer. The winger/striker, signed from Bala Town in 2022, has netted 23 goals in 48 games this year, whilst also providing his teammates with four assists. How good has he been? How good would you say Newport’s frontline is?

Ah yes, the Llangedwyn Eusebio. Will’s been great, he’s a Mr Reliable, working incredibly hard for the team and finishing well. He can also cover about four different positions which is invaluable. He’s lost his scoring touch a little recently, but that’s likely a reflection on how much football he’s been forced to play. Many of us think he might have a summer move already lined up, and good luck to him if so, but he’ll be a tough act to follow. 

Alongside him up front has been a rotating cast of Omar Bogle, Offrande Zanzala, Luke Jephcott and Seb Palmer-Houlden (on loan from Bristol City). “SPH” is the pick of them and won’t be playing at this level again next season, but (Jephcott aside) they’ve all chipped in with goals and done their bit.

Newport have lost all of their last five games, against Barrow, Colchester, Crawley, Grimsby and Accrington. What would you say is the main reason for this poor form?

Christ knows. Tiredness? Injuries? Complacency? Probably a mix of all three. But if you’re going to show relegation form, do it once you’re mathematically safe from relegation. A couple of wins between now and the end of the season, to put us back on an even keel and regain some momentum going into the summer, will do fine.

What are the main positives from this season?

We didn’t get relegated! Genuinely, if you’d offered me 22nd place and 45 pts in August, I’d have bitten your arm off. It was pretty clear by November that we’d rise above the relegation maelstrom, and in the event we’ve shown solid mid-table form for most of the season. Throw in that Man Utd cup game and a win against the six-fingered livestock botherers from North Wales and it’s been a vintage year, even if the current run is decidedly non-fun.

What are your thoughts on Nigel Adkins’ Tranmere Rovers and will Newport claim all three points this Saturday?

There is precisely zero expectation of anything other than a County defeat on Saturday. We’ve lost five straight games and there are very clearly big problems around County at present. Add to that injuries, suspensions and a murderous atmosphere from the fans, and Tranmere really ought to be aiming for a win. 

Adkins has steered the good ship Tranmere fairly steadily from what I’ve seen; you’ve been a bit inconsistent like we have this season, but you’ve got a solid base on which to build over the summer and I’d expect you to be top half next season, and possibly playoffs if you recruit well.

Newport County won promotion to the EFL in 2013. 

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