Record Last Season + Quick Summary:
League Two - 11th; W 16 / D 14 / L 14 / F 56 / A 58 / Pts 64
A miraculous escape from the snarling jaws of relegation was achieved under Michael Flynn, avoiding the National League on the final day of 2016/2017 at the expense of Hartlepool United. Few would’ve envisaged a top-half finish in the following season. A 4-0 away win at Forest Green Rovers had The Exiles in veritable nosebleed territory, and, whilst that form couldn’t last, it never really nose-dived either; two separate six-game spells without triumphing were the worst it got, and even then, they still managed to pick up several draws. The winter months were on the leaner side, but three hard-earned 2-1 results in succession at Rodney Parade were sufficient for a more than respectable placing, one of their best since reforming in 1989 and clawing their way back to the EFL the hard way.
Top Goalscorer: Padraig Amond (13 goals in 37 starts/3,139 minutes)
Top Creator: Robbie Willmott (6 assists in 36 starts/3,226 minutes)
Manager/Head Coach: Michael Flynn; the much-travelled midfielder had four separate spells as a player for the south Wales outfit, both starting and ending his career in the cathedral city. Perhaps best known outside the area for his times with Gillingham and Bradford City, he returned ‘home’ two years ago, first taking up a football and business development director role before becoming a coach under the machinations of Graham Westley. Half a year later, he found himself in caretaker charge, with Newport marooned at the bottom of the pile. Eight weeks on, he masterminded their survival in a period that will live long in the collective memory of supporters and echo down the coming decades. He improved the club’s standing in the following season greatly, enhancing his burgeoning reputation to make the most from relatively limited resources. Still only 37, he has a bright future in the game, regardless of whether that’s in the land of Saint David.
Ins: Fraser Franks (Stevenage), Charlie Cooper (Forest Green Rovers on loan), Keanu Marsh-Brown (Forest Green Rovers), Tyler Hornby-Forbes (Brighton & Hove Albion), Jamille Matt (Blackpool), Andrew Crofts (Scunthorpe United), Antoine Semenyo (Bristol City U23s on loan) & Tyreeq Bakinson (Bristol City U23s on loan).
Outs: Momodou Touray (Barry Town), Jamie Turley (free agent), Paul Hayes (free agent), Frank Nouble (Colchester United), Ben Tozer (Cheltenham Town), Lamar Reynolds (Dagenham & Redbridge), Calaum Jahraldo-Martin (free agent), Marlon Jackson (free agent), Tom Owen-Evans (Falkirk), Joss Ladabie (free agent) & James Bittner (retired).
Predicted First XI & Shape:
Tactics: The current personnel in one of the division’s shallower squads (in terms of overall numbers) look more suited for a cautious 5-3-2 on-paper, with at least one sitting midfielder, if not two. Jamie Day doesn’t have any registered competition between the sticks at present, and should that continue to be the case once the season beings properly, he will offer his teammates a surprisingly high level of strength when challenging for the ball. Despite that attribute, he isn’t confident when coming out for crosses, preferring to stick close to the safety of his goal-line, even though he’s 6’3″.
The work rate of Mickey Demetriou will be key to maintaining the shape of the back three. His ability to glide over the ground will help his goalkeeper and side out immeasurably, both facing away from and towards his own penalty area. He also could prove to be an outlet for The County from long throws, should the opportunity arise. Fraser Franks could form the central component, and he is adept at playing short passes and recycling possession, as well as having the flexibility to play on the right of the trio or out wide. Scot Bennett will use his frame to out-muscle the opposing forward, shepherding them away from the danger zone and allowing his teammates to regroup when quickly countered upon, despite his own lack of speed.
The wing-backs are crucial in helping Flynn’s charges transition from a defensive to attacking posture. Dan Butler tends to appear more comfortable in this style, and he allies his stamina with excellent aerial ability and a certain penchant for floating in early crosses for the likes of Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt. On the opposite flank, David Pipe must be one of the most aggressive and tenacious customers in the whole EFL, and though he doesn’t have the same raw speed of Butler, he is still reliable from the same sort of areas to put a ball in, as he has demonstrated throughout his long career in the lower leagues.
Andrew Crofts is the new captain, and although he will stay close to the backline without the ball, he ought to have some freedom to get forward when they win it back, and will more often than not be the one they look to make a crunching tackle and play a quick, forward pass in a short timeframe. Josh Sheehan is one of the more promising members in the ranks, and will need to shuttle between the front three and Crofts in a manner that alienates neither group for too long. A lot of his passes will also be positive in their direction and trajectory, utilising the high level of skill and dribbling talents of Keanu Marsh-Brown to the maximum. More of a wide player by trade, he could find himself operating through the middle but with the license to investigate space in between the lines.
The aforementioned Amond is an all-round striker, who leads the line and has enough presence and physicality to compete with the most brutish of cloggers in the fourth tier. He could be partnered by Jamille Matt, who, whilst never prolific in the EFL, seems a good fit for the likely strategy, and to give the Irishman enough room and support to get plenty of shots off.
Predicted ‘Area’ of Finish: Safe but sorry; there is no reason to suggest that the travails of 2016/2017 will return to Rodney Parade (where there are worries off the field). I am from far from alone in admiring the turnaround Flynn has made to the club since assuming control in the dugout. The likes of Marsh-Brown and Amond, coupled with a quick style from back to front, should ensure that the loyal Exiles in the stands are usually entertained, and the squad has a good balance about it, as well as the personnel with enough tactical and positional flexibility to change tack and keep the scouts guessing. The sheer openness of the league means that there isn’t a position from 22nd up to the play-off ranks that they can’t realistically obtain, although that same equity means there could be a handful of points that separate a bevvy of sides. Do they have enough in their contingent to last a gruelling campaign without suffering if a few are lost to injury and suspension? That could be the one major weakness.