Two wins on the board without playing particularly well or even facing a shot on target yet. This League Two malarkey is looking easy.
It would be a complacent attitude to take following a perfect start to the season that we already know the quality of the division and only have to maintain our current level of performance to ensure promotion. While both of our wins thus far have been comfortable, we have been fortunate to an extent to have taken leads while struggling to create many clear-cut opportunities and that our opponents didn’t commit numbers going forward.
Nonetheless, it’s a wonderful position to be in to have six points on the board, transfer business effectively over, and there being plenty of scope for improvement. The focus now is solely on Mark Robins working with the squad available and making those improvements as a team.
It seems unlikely that Mark Robins will change a winning team for this home game against Newport. While Lee Burge is fit again, Liam O’Brien, while yet to flex his shot-stopping skills in the league, has done nothing to warrant the upheaval that comes with changing your goalkeeper. The back four looks settled now that Jordan Willis is fit, despite coming off with cramp against Grimsby. Liam Kelly and Michael Doyle are the heart of the team in central midfield, Jodi Jones is our skilful wide player, Peter Vincenti is our tall one. Stuart Beavon and Marc McNulty are yet to develop an understanding as a strike duo, however, their work-rate in the second-half against Grimsby was an important element of the victory.
While Duckens Nazon and Tony Andreu offer the promise of guile and creativity which could well be the missing element from this side at the moment, neither seems to slot straight into the starting XI without having to both drop someone rather harshly and alter the style of play. Whether our current starting XI is the strongest one remains to be seen, however, there is no reason to changes this up at this moment in time.
Last Time We Met
Our last competitive meeting with Newport County came in 1961 in the old third division (League One). A brace for Mike Dixon at Somerton Park in Newport gave Jimmy Hill’s Coventry City a win early into his reign. The game was so long ago that we weren’t even the Sky Blues back then.
We did play Newport more recently in a friendly before the start of last season, with George Thomas and Jordan Willis scoring to hand Tony Mowbray’s Sky Blues a comfortable win, back when we still thought that another Adam Armstrong was on their way and Vladimir Gadzhev was the new John Fleck.
How Are They Doing?
Newport County pulled off a remarkable act of survival last season, with current manager Mike Flynn arriving as a caretaker on 9th March with relegation looking inevitable. However, Flynn won seven of the 12 remaining games of last season to ensure survival on the final day of the season.
Seeking to avoid another close shave, Mike Flynn has attempted to avoid the excessive player turnover which has been the club’s demise over recent years. The core of last season’s survivalists has remained in place, while some of the dead wood has been cleared out and improvements have been added to the squad in key areas.
In particular, Flynn looks to have upgraded his attack via the signings of ex-Coventry City and Nei Mongol Zhongyu striker Frank Nouble, and Bristol City loanee Shawn McCoulsky. Nouble has scored in both league games thus far for Newport, while McCoulsky scored in their opening game and a notched brace in a League Cup win over League One Southend. Nouble will be the focal point in attack, attempting to use his physicality, while McCoulsky will look to run in behind.
While the addition of former Yeovil midfielder Matt Dolan over the summer has signalled an attempt to play a more progressive and passing style of play, Newport are very much about getting numbers forward, putting the ball into the penalty area at every opportunity, and attacking second and third balls. They are a team aware that they’re not the best defensively, so will likely attempt to be the more proactive side, not only in taking an attacking mentality, but attempting to impose themselves physically upon us.
Flynn is likely to set Newport up in the 5-3-2 system that proved so effective towards the end of last season. Not only will it mean that the centre of the pitch will be tight and congested, but that their wing-backs – Robbie Willmott and Dan Butler – will have licence to press forward and pepper our penalty area with crosses. That will leave space in behind the wing-backs for Jodi Jones to exploit, but it will also mean that Jordan Willis and Rod McDonald will have to dominate in the air, while Liam O’Brien’s ability to command his area will be put under examination more than it has in recent games.
In each of the past two weeks, I’ve warned of the threat of a physical and direct side looking to provide us with a first warning that League Two isn’t going to be a cake-walk – in each of the past two weeks, I’ve been wrong. While Newport are perhaps the most capable of the three teams we’ve faced thus far of handing us a bloody nose, we should be feeling fairly confident that elements of this team are capable of standing up to the test.
It will be an interesting game were Newport to take the lead, forcing Mark Robins to chase a game for the first time this season. Nonetheless, with Newport’s weaknesses at the back, along with their ability to score goals, I can see this being a game where both sides score. I’m going to lean towards positivity and have us down as winning 2-1.