Having looked in danger of dropping out of contention for the play-offs just over a month ago, we’ve put ourselves in a position where automatic promotion could be within our grasp. With many of the promotion and play-off chasing sides playing each other over the Easter period, six points against two teams with nominally nothing to play for could put automatic promotion into our own hands – or at least, very close to.
While you usually want to revel in a 4-0 win and a hat-trick from one of your strikers, we can’t afford to lose any of the focus we’ve shown in recent weeks. Past slip-ups mean that our hold on even a play-off place is still tentative. The fact that the Grimsby win was our third in a row – and sixth game in a row unbeaten – has barely been commented on, which is a positive sign that there is a focus on finishing the job off, rather than basking in a strong run of form.
After months of chopping and changing, Robins looks to have settled on a balanced and consistent side. Dominic Hyam and Rod McDonald have formed an excellent understanding in central defence, Jack Grimmer and Ryan Haynes from full-back allow us to stretch sides, Tom Bayliss and Michael Doyle seem the ideal yin and yang pairing in the centre of the park, Jordan Shipley and Peter Vincenti seem to balance things out nicely out wide and in Jonson Clarke-Harris and Marc McNulty we have two goalscoring strikers up front who are increasingly developing an understanding of how to play together.
Unless there are injuries that have cropped up since last week, there is absolutely no reason to change things up for this Newport game. While Liam Kelly, Kyel Reid and Maxime Biamou made important contributions against Grimsby from the bench which allowed us to kill the game off, the starting XI is performing so well that it’s hard to see anyone forcing their way into the side at the moment.
Last Time We Met
It was a defeat typical of the games we lost in the first few months of this season. Newport, a determined and hyper well-organised side, set out at the Ricoh Arena to contain us and went about their game-plan to perfection – even managing to be the better, more creative side in the first-half. Thanks to a a goalkeeping howler from Liam O’Brien, as he completely misjudged Reece Cole’s 25-yard daisy-cutter, and then some determined defending from Newport, it was a game we lost without posting too much of an attacking threat.
How Are They Doing?
For the opening few months of the season, Newport looked like being one of the surprise packages in League Two this year. Carrying the momentum from their remarkable escape from relegation last season, Newport were playing a physical, combative, and determined style of football that also saw them pummel the opposing side with crosses, set-pieces and shots and had them right in the play-off picture.
However, their run in the FA Cup – which saw them beat Leeds and take Spurs to a replay – seems to have derailed their season somewhat, with teams starting to cotton onto Newport being a genuinely good team. They have just one win in their past 10 league games and it seems that Mike Flynn – in his first full season as a manager – has struggled to deal with the drop-off in form, having chosen on one or two occasions to hang his players out to dry in the press, which is often a tactic of last resort.
Despite their recent run of form, here are two important stats to bear in mind – they have only lost three games at home all season, and none of the current top seven have beaten Newport at home this season. Going to Rodney Parade hasn’t been an easy fixture for anyone this season and Newport are a side that appear to relish playing against the better teams than in the games where they have to go out and attack.
The physicality and threat from set-pieces of Newport could be where we come unstuck in this fixture. Dan Butler and Robbie Wilmott – having played most of their football this season at wing-back – are their leading assist-makers, along with centre-back Ben White – mainly from flick-ons at set-pieces. Additionally, defender Mickey Demetriou is on five goals, further highlighting Newport’s threat from dead-ball situations.
Newport appear to have been affected by the loss of midfield enforcer Joss Labadie to a season-ending injury, which has placed extra emphasis on the more creative-minded Matt Dolan and Josh Sheehan to perform their defensive duties. Nonetheless, Dolan is a player who can run a game at this level if given time on the ball, and Josh Sheehan – along with Wolves loanee forward Aaron Collins – has been one of Newport’s better players in recent weeks.
In attack, Newport have one of the division’s more reliable goalscorers in Padraig Amond, who is generally played with Frank Nouble as either a strike partner or wide player. Nouble is enjoying one of his best goalscoring seasons at Newport, having finally accepted the impact his physical presence can make. Additionally, Newport have Shawn McCoulsky on the books, who has 10 goals to his name this season but has lost some of the form he was in earlier in the campaign.
It’s been a bit of a trope during these past few games that ‘it would be typical if we slipped up now’, but it would be typical if we slipped up now. Newport having essentially nothing to play for creates the sentiment that this is a game we should win easily, however, football isn’t as simple as that. Newport are a team that relish taking on better teams, especially if they can get an early goal and set about frustrating the flow of play.
If we are going to drop points in one of these two games over Easter, it seems likelier that it will be against a Newport side that are strong at home rather than a Yeovil side that struggle to win away. The intensity and ruthlessness we’ve shown in recent weeks has to be continued in this game. Nonetheless, I think we’ll drop points here – 1-1.