MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Goals should be the goal for returning Exiles

South Wales Argus: Launch of new Newport County home and away kits. The new home and away kits are modelled by players Christian Jolley and Aaron O'Connor. (5657985) Launch of new Newport County home and away kits. The new home and away kits are modelled by players Christian Jolley and Aaron O'Connor. (5657985)

NEWPORT County AFC returned to work yesterday as pre-season began and fingers crossed, they made goals their goal for the new campaign.

That may sound flippant as the Exiles ready themselves for only a second season in the Football League in their new incarnation, but I believe two key factors will define entirely how Newport fare with their difficult second album of a campaign.

I can't claim to be exposing anything controversial, or contentious with this viewpoint, but the simple fact is, it is entirely unrealistic to expect Newport County to challenge for League Two promotion without a significant improvement from the strikers at the club.

The Exiles will be strengthened and refreshed in terms of personnel for the new campaign, but it's more likely come the big kick-off, that we will see debuts in defence and midfield than in attack.

County have a plethora of forwards - Chris Zebroski, Aaron O'Connor, Christian Jolley, Rene Howe, Shaun Jeffers, Joe Parker and Danny Crow all vying for a maximum of three slots and a minimum of one, now that Robbie Willmott and Yan Klukowski provide further options for the flanks.

Now, three of the names listed above are rightly exempt from criticism, namely Zebroski, O'Connor and Parker.

Parker, a signing from Gloucester who has only just arrived at the club, has little pressure on him this term.

He arrives with high hopes and fine references, but County fans are always patient with young players and having seen such drastic improvements in Conor Washington as he found his feet at a higher level, Parker will get the same level of forgiveness, should he make a slow start.

Zebroski and O'Connor also get no scrutiny, based on injury troubles.

And this, of course, is the key second part to County improving this season. They must do better at keeping their players fit.

Physio Adam Roche must've felt more like a firefighter last term and by the time he'd arrived at the club, he had a veritable forest fire to contend with in terms of wounded players.

Now that he's got his feet under the table and his methods have been incorporated, hopefully we can legitimately dream of escaping another injury crisis. Last term was the worst I can remember for long-term absentees.

O'Connor was a case in point and him being an option this term would be a massive bonus for County. He's the closest thing County have to a natural, instinctive finisher and his loss was felt enormously.

Zebroski, if he can avoid significant injury, is perhaps an even more exciting prospect.

He may have lived a nomadic existence in the past few seasons, but he looked really at home at Newport and unlike every other striker at the club, he did weigh-in with more than his share of goals, hitting the net 14 times despite a three month layoff.

Zebroski also gives you more as a natural number nine, he's equally capable leading the line and holding up the ball as he is foraging out wide and hustling and bustling a full back.

This leads us to the two biggest question marks for the current campaign, Shaun Jeffers and Rene Howe.

Both arrived last January and neither player could help as the Exiles went into freefall, Jeffers looking short of big game experience and Howe looking short of form and fitness.

Both players endured disappointing starts to their County careers and both need to repay the faith Edinburgh has shown in them.

Howe, especially, as a more senior member of the squad, needs to turn flashes of quality into far more sustained form.

The County faithful stayed with the pair of them, but one suspects patience may be in short supply without a big improvement this term.

Speaking of a lack of patience from the crowd, it's going to be fascinating to see what becomes of Danny Crow this term.

Crow was a talismanic figure for County in his debut season, a lucky charm who barely figured on a losing side and whose vision and ability won over detractors who were more concerned with his body shape.

A year later and with results bad, Crow's body shape became all important to fans as he became an easy scapegoat for County's lack of goals.

But the fact is, even at his best, Crow isn't a prolific goalscorer. He's a link man, a clever footballer who creates chances for others and it's up to him to remind everyone of that fact.

If Crow is the best he can be, he will get chances under Justin Edinburgh. It's not a coincidence that so many people in the game rate Crow as Newport's most skilful attacker.

This leaves us with just one, the biggest riddle of all, Christian Jolley.

The man who scored 15 goals in just over 20 games in the Conference, but who incredibly hit the net just twice last term.

More than with any other striker, Edinburgh has shown incredible patience and faith in Jolley and is staking his reputation on the fact he fires again this season.

Edinburgh has backed his goal shy forwards to improve markedly this season and it's no exaggeration to state that their hopes for the campaign rest on him being proven correct.

The Exiles got 23 (league) goals out of their strikers last season, but the collective need to fire at least 50 or 60 this term if promotion is to be a realistic aim.

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