WILL the real Newport County AFC please stand up? Graduating with first class honours against Oxford on Tuesday, they simply weren’t at the races against Cheltenham on Saturday.
Exiles boss Justin Edinburgh has rightly hammered home the point that his side’s poor run since Boxing Day has coincided with seven of their last ten games being on the road.
But this defeat to a mediocre Cheltenham team is the second in three games at Rodney Parade following the shock reverse to basement boys Northampton Town last month.
Edinburgh will also point out, again with some justification, that the patched-up pitch is a real problem.
He said before taking on the Robins that there were some ‘tired legs’ in his squad following the win over Oxford.
And post-match his assistant Jimmy Dack used the same phrase and promised that there would be rotation in the squad in the coming weeks.
Don’t change a winning team is the old maxim but if the players were drained then you have to ask why there was only one change in personnel against Cheltenham.
Captain David Pipe was rested after cramping up in training and that prompted Edinburgh to recall Andrew Hughes, move Robbie Willmott to right wing-back and put Andy Sandell back on the left.
Hughes, having not played since the FA Cup defeat at Kidderminster Harriers in early December, looked rusty and understandably so.
He was at fault for Ashley Vincent’s winning goal on 23 minutes when Jermaine McGlashan beat him far too easily and crossed for Vincent to bundle the ball in off Willmott at the near post.
Willmott struggled to make an impact in yet another new role and fans will be scratching their heads as to why Ryan Jackson didn’t get a recall.
And far too many players underperformed, looking drained and devoid of ideas as they pumped long balls forward in a vain attempt to force an equaliser.
In midfield Ryan Burge and Adam Chapman were a shadow of the dynamic duo that picked apart Oxford.
Up front Chris Zebroski worked himself into the ground without anything to show for his efforts but Rene Howe looked leggy and performed well below the high standards he has set so far in his short stay at County.
Some credit has to go to Mark Yates and his side, of course. They are not a great team but they came with a plan and it worked.
They got an early goal against the run of play and thereafter defended resolutely and continued to pose a threat on the break as they claimed their first win of 2014.
The positive news for County fans is that, mathematically at least, the play-offs dream is still very much on with Edinburgh’s men now seven points off the top seven but still with three games in hand.
Tuesday’s clash with AFC Wimbledon is another chance to pick up three points at home to another mid-table team in poor form and County can only improve from the weekend.
And, as Dack argues, if the fixture backlog does become too much and County do miss out on the play-offs then it’s not the end of the world.
Edinburgh and Dack have done a superb job since taking over and, whatever happens over the next few months, the club has had a successful first season back in the Football League after a 25-year exile.
But while the chance of promotion is still there you can be sure that Edinburgh, Dack and the players won’t give up on it without a fight.
The fans got frustrated on Saturday as their heroes huffed and puffed and never looked like getting anything out of the game.
That was no shock and the players and management refused to condemn the supporters for getting on their backs.
They know they need to improve on Tuesday and they will be more determined than anyone to put the Jekyll & Hyde football behind them.
County: Parish, Sandell, Hughes, Anthony, Yakubu, Willmott, Minshull (Porter, 60), Chapman (Crow, 60), Burge, Howe (Jeffers, 78), Zebroski
Subs not used: Pipe, Jackson, Naylor, Thompson
Booked: Hughes, Burge
Cheltenham: Brown, Ihiekwe, Braham-Barrett, Richards, Brundle, Elliott, McGlashan, Vincent (Jombati, 65), Gornell, Harrison, Deering
Subs not used: Taylor, Cureton, Roberts, Kotwica, Williams, Lucas
Referee: Steven Rushton