MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Biggest test for Edinburgh will be arresting County's slump
10:02am Tuesday 11th March 2014 in Sport
MY travels to Mansfield at the weekend were actually a pretty good metaphor for the travails of Newport County AFC at present.
Like the County I had a slow start thanks to road closures around my home, and then when I got to the One Call Arena (Field Mill in old money) a hapless parking attendant sent me up a ramp in the car park straight into a giant mud heap that saw me get stuck.
Once I’d extradited my car from the mud, where it now appeared more like it had been on an army assault course than the M5 or M42, every known problem that can befoul a journalist in a football ground occurred.
WiFi problems, signal issues, you name it and when I left the ground after County’s crushing last-gasp defeat, the legacy of getting stuck in the mud meant it was a good hour before I could leave Mansfield.
I tell you this not in an Adrian Mole style attempt to make us closer acquaintances so that you’ll read on, but simply to point out that things can go wrong fast in football, as in life and sometimes you can’t do an awful lot to prevent it.
Because there is nothing to be gained by pretending otherwise; things have gone horribly awry for County since the turn of the year. Indeed, no club in League Two has fewer points in 2014.
The Exiles have only beaten Oxford United since their splendid and controlled performance and victory at Wycombe Wanderers on Boxing Day and that result put the Exiles within spitting distance of the automatic promotion spots.
However, that was then and it feels like a lot longer than just two-and-a-half months ago.
Since Christmas the Exiles have lost six successive home games to the weather, faced an arduous spell of five successive Rodney Parade games on a heavy pitch in just over a fortnight and have seen their most reliable striker this term, Conor Washington, depart for London Road and League One.
And that is on the back of County having an incredibly difficult time with injuries, especially to Byron Anthony, Max Porter and Aaron O’Connor, the fulcrum of last season’s promotion side, the spine, ripped out for the majority of this campaign.
When Justin Edinburgh claims that there are legitimate reasons for the Exiles decline in 2014, rather than excuses, he’s absolutely spot-on.
However, the issue now is how do he and his squad deal with their current predicament?
There can be no denying a complete crisis of confidence throughout the squad; it was evident at Mansfield and in the home defeat to AFC Wimbledon where the Exiles contrived to turn three points into none.
Newport County under Justin Edinburgh have known almost nothing but success after success, from beating relegation and getting to Wembley to moving to Rodney Parade and powering through the Conference National before that magical Wembley day with Wrexham.
Edinburgh’s Newport have been unstoppable and only now, a whole two-and-a-half years after arriving at the club, only now are we going to find out how well the former Spurs defender deals with adversity.
Because there are two key reasons why Edinburgh won’t allow this season to just drift to its conclusion with the Exiles tumbling down the table.
Reason one, County can still make the play-offs.
Now I know many of you are rolling your eyes about now, but the fact is, if County win their two games in hand, they’ll be right back in the mix. It seems unlikely, but it is undeniably possible.
The second reason is more vital. And that’s the seemingly irrefutable truth that teams that end seasons on a massively downward curve tend to begin the next campaign in exactly the same manner.
The Exiles need to arrest their slump and it wouldn’t take a great deal to get back to winning ways.
A start would be if the County could ever field a first choice backline, seemingly not a week passing without the Exiles being forced to make at least one defensive change, extending to the goalkeeper as well.
However, let’s not pretend otherwise, Newport’s real troubles have been in attack.
Last season they had two prolific strikers in O’Connor and Christian Jolley, a viable plan B in Danny Crow and Edinburgh always ensured he was loaded with striking options.
That remains the case, by my calculations he currently has seven strikers on his books, but none of them are scoring goals.
Rene Howe and Chris Zebroski both look like they want to occupy the same space and play in a similar fashion and with O’Connor injured, Shaun Jeffers finding his feet at Rodney Parade and Christian Jolley and Danny Crow out of form and/or favour, the goals have dried up.
In the absence of one in form striker, let alone two, I wonder if Edinburgh may be tempted to go back to his more ambitious 4-3-3 or even 3-4-3 formations ahead of tonight’s tough trip to Morecambe?
He’s certainly not shown himself to be rigidly tied to any system in the past and it was clear on Saturday that no-one is hurting more than Edinburgh as his grand plans for the campaign get flushed away.
Rescuing the season from this horrible run will be Edinburgh’s biggest triumph yet.
BLOB Finally, I just want to comment on the travelling County fans at Mansfield on Saturday,
I usually find it infuriating when I’m told off for not mentioning the fans singing a lot, because frankly, supporting the team - as a fan - is really your only job!
However, on Saturday 220 Newport fans made more noise than 2500 Mansfield fans throughout the entire game and they deserved a better performance. It was inspiring stuff and a reminder that the Exiles do have some supporters who are still enjoying themselves, even through the bad times.
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