Tomorrow sees us travel to South Wales to complete the full set of League Two sides before the turn of Christmas. Newport County are the only side in the league we have not faced meaning we will also be exactly half way through the season. Half way? How on earth did that happen?
It only seems like yesterday we were awaiting a trip to Boreham Wood wondering if the wheels had come off our National League promotion charge. Now we’re not even at the turn of Christmas and all 23 League Two clubs are safely in the bag, one way or another. Football, those victories might last for ever in our mind, but they’re fleeting in meaning.
Rodney Parade (pictured top) might just remind us of some of those less than salubrious grounds of 2016/17. The pitch was quite famously awful last year, they lost games to the weather thick and fast and even had to play several away in a row at the beginning of this season for work to be carried out.
Despite their struggles last season, they stayed up on the last day thanks to a remarkable run of results, they’ve had a decent go at it so far this time around. We’ve traded places with them on a regular basis and whilst our first meeting sees us above them, the wrong side of a result would see us switch again. This is the proverbial ‘six pointer’ that your Mummy told you about. Win this and we put Newport to bed for a couple of weeks at least.
What can we expect from our long pre-Christmas trip? According to the stats, not much in the first half. We clearly come alive in the second half of our away games, as proven at Crewe for instance, whereas Newport like to keep it tight at home in the first half. 80% of their goals have come in the second half, similarly 80% of the goals they conceded at home come in the second half. Don’t worry too much if you’re stuck in traffic, eh?
They’ve got some very good players too. We’ll all know of Padraig Amond, the goalscorer extraordinaire who helped Grimsby out of the Natonal League before helping Hartlepool into it. He’s now at Rodney Parade and whilst he’ll always be a threat, he’s not looking as dangerous as previous seasons. Thus far he has six league goals, one more than each of Harry Anderson and Matt Green. It’s fair to say since moving to Wales he’s not been in his greatest form, that said he’ll always be a threat.
Frank Nouble used to be at West Ham, but that’s looking like a tenuous link now as he’s had a few clubs since, Newport being his 13th. He’s scored 25 career league goals too, so despite being an apparent ‘big name’ he’s perhaps not the player he once was. He’s got six league goals so far, three came against Chesterfield and five came in the first six games. Once again though, a lack of goals recently doesn’t mean we should rest on our laurels. Nouble has three assists, the joint highest for Newport so it looks as though he is both a conduit and end product provider.
The one I like at Newport is Robbie Wilmott. He spent two years at Newport from 2013 to 2015 but has plied his trade at Chelmsford and Bishop Stortford since then. He’s a wide player who has suffered from injury this season, but he’s a real threat from the wing. Rumours linked him with a move to us in the summer and, if they had substance, it suggests he’s not a bad player. After all, Danny knows a player doesn’t he?
Finally, Mickey Demetriou shouldn’t be under-estimated. He’s been at Kidderminster, Shrewsbury and Cambridge prior to rocking up at Newport and at 27, he’s got experience and know how. He’s a product of the Glenn Hoddle academy, he’s played England C football and in 2014 was even approached by Cyprus about playing for them. He’s left-sided, usually a left-sided centre half, but as the stats show he’s had 22 shots (6 on target) in 22 games. That’s a decent stats for a defender, Sean Raggett has had 20 in more games (16 on target though for Raggs). Demetrious is 6’2 and I fully expect him to be a set-piece threat.
Speaking of set pieces, Newport average 7.7 corners per match at home, so it looks as though they’ll offer an aerial threat from those areas. That might play into our hands as we’re pretty solid in the air, but it’s worth noting that they’ll be pushing Demetriou forward when the situation needs it. Maybe there’s the chance to hit them on the counter? We’ve looked comfortable sticking all eleven players back in the box, but maybe a Ginnelly or Cameron Stewart needs to remain forward and give them something additional to think about?
I expect a tight game again, but then when do we not? Even when the likes of Barnet and Chesterfield came to Sincil Bank we got a tight game, so why should a match again play-off rivals be any different?
The form book tells two stories depending on how your interpret it. On one hand they’re unbeaten in four and have won three of those games including two wins against Cambridge in the FA Cup and league. If you take a bigger picture they’ve won four in twelve and lost at home to struggling Barnet in November. Statistics, they’ll tell you whatever story you want if you look longer enough, won’t they?
Tomorrow’s official is Brett Huxtable. He had four seasons with us in the National League, taking charge of matches against Kidderminster (4-1 defeat), Eastleigh (1-1 draw) and Wrexham (4-2 win, somehow). He’s not overly rash with his red cards, unless you count his last two games! On December 2nd he sent off Kieffer Moore for Rotherham against Bristol Rovers for an elbow, seemingly fully justified. Last weekend he also sent off Harry Forrester for Wimbledon as they were beaten 4-0 at home by Wigan, the offence was a second yellow and again doesn’t seem overly controversial. After last weekend’s referee it will be a relief to have a ref who wants to remain inconspicuous and make the game about the two teams, not him.
Previous meetings, for what they’re worth, have been very sparse. Technically this version of Newport County replaced the old one, so we’ve only faced them four times. Those four matches were not kind to us, Newport won on three occasions, 1-0, 2-1 and 4-2. Aaron O’Connor was the real thorn in our side for them, he scored four in two matches. Robbie Wilmott, one of the dangermen I’ve tipped above, bagged a brace as they sunk us 4-2 towards the end of David Holdsworth’s reign. Ironically our only win against them came on a day when defeat could have spelled the end for Holdsworth, the infamous fan protest took place before Mark McCammon and John Nutter gave us a 2-0 win. If you ever need an indication of how far we’ve come, our starting line up that day included Paul Robson, Peter Bore, Tyrone Thompson, McMammon and Jake Sheridan.
I predict another tight game, the stats and numbers models all suggest a 1-1 draw. I’m going to stick my neck out and say a 1-0 win for City. I can’t see enough of a threat in Amond and Nouble to trouble our centre halves, especially not as Billy Kee and Kayden Jackson couldn’t break us down. I also think we’ve got a goal in us everywhere we go at the moment. 1-0 to City, second half goal as per the norm!