IT’S time to assess Newport County’s released and retained list and it is a blessed relief to be talking far more positively than we would’ve been just a few short weeks ago.
The Exiles didn’t exactly end their debut campaign in the Football League playing champagne football, but they certainly finished with a flourish and I can understand why Edinburgh has kept faith with so much of his playing squad.
As things stand, only David Pipe, Ryan Burge, Harry Worley, Tony James (as a player) and Aaron Holloway have departed and when you add on loan players Tom Naylor, Kevin Feely and Ian McLoughlin, we see where Edinburgh comes up with the figure of ‘six or seven’ summer signings.
Newport should be able to slightly increase their budget for next term – attendances are up, unsurprisingly, and if commercial revenues are not something has gone horribly awry – and it’ll be interesting to see where reinforcements are sought.
Of the current squad, Edinburgh’s mindset has definitely swung in the past few months and that is no bad thing, a manager who sticks by rash judgements can be seen as firm and decisive, but equally, as being pig-headed.
Mike Flynn is a case in point, his form has been excellent since the news that he was to released and I’d argue when used in his natural position, he’s been Newport’s pound-for-pound best midfielder this season, by a nose from Lee Minshull.
Edinburgh has swayed in recent times on other players ultimately offered deals, Andy Sandell being one, but he’s ultimately come back round to appreciating that the current group where capable, until Christmas, of challenging for the League Two title.
I know supporters will disagree with individuals decisions on players, either those released, like Pipe, or those retained, notably the current boo boy de jour, Danny Crow.
However, there will surely be a consensus that the nucleus is at the club, particularly if Darcy Blake is persuaded to remain and if Max Porter and Aaron O’Connor can enjoy injury-free campaigns?
Edinburgh must now ponder which areas he chooses to strengthen and I’d suggest two full backs, a central defender, a central midfielder, a winger and a striker would round out his squad nicely.
Both Ryan Jackson and Andy Sandell should be pushed next season for a starting spot and Edinburgh will almost certainly look for two attacking options in those positions. He converted Robbie Willmott, in pursuit of a more attacking left back or left wing back and it was a lack of goals and assists that ultimately did for Pipe.
County also need a midfielder for their starting XI and I can even describe the mould of player, ex-midfielder Sam Foley.
Foley’s pace and forward thinking style not only stretches opponents but it provides another runner for Adam Chapman. Chapman was superb for Newport with Foley alongside him and that style of player is required to once again get Chapman purring.
A replacement for Harry Worley, with Blake hopefully also signed permanently, would give County more central defensive strength than they had this season and Edinburgh will surely be right in his thinking that he’s due far better luck with the fitness of his two goalkeepers?
It’s in attack Edinburgh currently has far more questions than answers and I’ll be interested to see how the Exiles line-up come August.
They might all be retained for next season, but I’ll be astonished if Joe Parker, Shaun Jeffers and Crow all start next season in Amber.
Edinburgh isn’t one to pick more than one target man and with Chris Zebroski and Rene Howe as options, Jeffers is unlikely to get many chances. A loan move for him would make sense, as would potentially allowing Parker a period with a Conference club.
Crow is a far more difficult prospect to assess. His win percentage for Newport is better than anyone else in the squad and he’s judged highly both by his teammates and those who have worked with him, BBC pundit Andy Legg rates him hugely, having been the assistant boss at Peterborough United when Crow played at London Road.
However, Crow has an issue in that many of the fans have turned against him and Edinburgh must assess whether it is going to be possible to bounce back from that situation. Otherwise, Crow may be offered elsewhere. Personally speaking and I know many disagree, but I enjoy Danny’s contributions, I think he’s got an incredibly sharp footballing brain. Like Chapman, I can never be too critical of a player who covets and cherishes the ball.
However, whatever the verdict on Crow, and I think his future is ultimately as an attacking midfielder anyway, I’d like to see two additional forward players targeted and acquired this summer.
Firstly, I’d like to see Edinburgh go against his instincts and identify and sign an out and out winger.
There would be nothing to stop him doing as he has with Willmott and adding several strings to that players’ game, but on too many occasions Newport line-up 4-3-3 with a Zebroski or Howe asked to forage on the flanks. It hurts their performances and makes County predictable as attackers never look to go on the outside.
A genuine wide player and another striker with proven pedigree in the Football League would add an extra dimension to County’s attack and I believe it entirely realistic to expect (at least) an extra 25 goals next season from O’Connor, Christian Jolley and Rene Howe, combined.
Edinburgh has largely done very well with his player recruitment during his time with County and it’ll be absolutely imperative he gets it right in the coming months. If he does, then Newport County will have the nucleus of a squad that can push for promotion.