THE new League Two campaign is almost upon us and Newport County AFC fans have plenty of cause for excitement, even if the bookies don’t seem to think so.
The Exiles return to competitive action on Saturday when Wycombe visit Rodney Parade as the first contest of the League Two campaign gives County a golden chance to make a winning start.
We know that once the referee blows the whistle on Saturday that is us hooked for another campaign, nine months and the best past of 60 games to go until we can think and act like rational human beings again.
However, your enthusiasm alone won’t carry the team far, if it did, it wouldn’t be approaching 600-years since Newcastle last won a trophy and Portsmouth wouldn’t be in League Two.
There are an endless number of factors that shape a season for any club and generally speaking, sheer profit margins indicate that the bookies are better than most at accurately gauging realistic expectations for a football club.
And as pertains to Newport, the bookies think it’s going to be a case of the same season as their first in the Football League, with County the 14th favourite to win the title with ten sides considered more likely than the Exiles to face the unthinkable prospect of relegation to the Conference.
With Newport’s wage budget only slightly increased from last term and considering their first campaign was so heavily fractured – good, then dreadful after Christmas with a slight flourish at the end of the campaign – it’s easy to understand why County are tipped to have an as you were season.
However, sometimes you can present odds in a misleading fashion and I’ve deliberately done so here.
Because despite being tipped by the bookies to finish 14th, you can get 12-1 on the Exiles to be relegated, but you won’t find a better price than 7-1 on them achieving a third promotion in six seasons.
County are viewed as a mid-table club more likely to mount a promotion challenge than to be sucked into the relegation reckoning and I believe that’s a highly accurate assessment of their capabilities for the campaign.
Exceptional performances in the cups, dreadful injury problems or a succession of winter postponements are all factors that could hinder the Exiles in League Two, but there are several reasons why they could and should believe they can perform better this time around.
Firstly, and most crucially, the squad that starts this campaign is better, or certainly less reliant on individuals.
The Exiles have potentially the best collection of central defenders in League Two and in Kevin Feely; they might have found their next big star youngster.
Lee Evans (Cardiff), Matt Green (Bristol City), Craig Reid (Coventry City), Paul Bignot (Kidderminster), Danny Rose (Oxford) and Conor Washington (Peterborough) are all examples in recent seasons of clubs allowing gems to slip through their fingers to County’s benefit and Charlton have made a similar mistake with Feely.
He has the potential to play in the Championship at least and Edinburgh has found a really nice blend with him and Darren Jones, a player who should’ve returned to the city long before now.
However, we need not pine for local players like Jones, Mike Flynn and Byron Anthony as much as we used to, because manager Justin Edinburgh has completed the transition of ensuring every County player lives locally.
While Edinburgh and his assistant Jimmy Dack still commute up and down the M4, the County squad are all based locally and there appears to be an excellent spirit in the camp.
That is only going to improve with the Exiles opening a training base and improving their training facilities immeasurably for the upcoming campaign. It’s a switch that also vastly improves their ability to entice quality signings in the future.
We’ve mentioned Edinburgh and his staff and it’s fair to assume they will also feel they can improve on aspects of last season.
County’s physio Adam Roche has now been in control of the medical side throughout a pre-season and he’ll be hopeful Newport won’t endure a similar level of injury hell to last season.
And Edinburgh and Dack have hopefully taken lessons from last season, specifically the period where it all went wrong for the Exiles from January to March.
County became too reliant on their 5-3-2 formation and found it impossible to deal with fullbacks pushed high.
This season Edinburgh should and most likely will get it right more often than not, in terms of tactics.
If Edinburgh was married to 5-3-2 he’s divorced now and throughout his tenure, other than in Newport’s horrible run of form, he’s rotated formations adeptly.
County will start the campaign playing 4-3-3, can switch to 5-3-2 and I’m also enthused by their ability to play the same 3-4-3 formation used so well by Costa Rica in the World Cup. Newport adopted that system on the road a few times last season and it worked well.
However, for County to challenge for promotion, they’ll also need to fix some issues they couldn’t address last term.
We’ve discussed at length the problem with Newport’s strikers, the onus on them to fire the Exiles into contention (and there were good signs in pre-season, regarding Aaron O’Connor, Joe Parker and Rene Howe) but Edinburgh’s biggest conundrum remains in midfield.
Certain fans think it is Danny Crow, but County’s biggest enigma and biggest underachiever remains Adam Chapman.
I didn’t see a single performer in League Two last season with Chapman’s passing ability, but Newport haven’t worked out a way to get the best out of him. Hopefully the addition of Mark Byrne will do exactly that.
Because with Chapman on form and strikers scoring goals, County will be a match for anyone in League Two this season.