MICHAEL PEARLMAN SAYS: Newport County are dark horses
12:10pm Tuesday 7th August 2012 in Sport
IN FOUR days Newport County AFC will kick-off for the third time as a Conference club and their fans should feel confident about the prospects of a season of genuine excitement and optimism.
Indeed, the action on the field could even rival the summer break for drama, the Exiles like a soap opera since the conclusion of the last campaign.
It’s been like something out of Sky One football drama Dream Team for the past few months and I’ve been waiting for Paul Robinson from Neighbours to take charge at Harchester United such has been the level of change and drama at a club where life is rarely dull.
The quickest of recaps reads like a chalkboard with months of storyline ideas for a TV drama. With a change of stadium, a first trip to Wembley, a scandal which led to the chairman of the club resigning, a multi-millionaire joining the board and substantiated rumours of significant investment at the club there has rarely been a dull day.
It’s full credit to Justin Edinburgh and Tim Harris for getting on with their task of improving County’s playing squad, something I feel they’ve done excellently during an uncertain time.
The Exiles look in good shape to this reporter and I see no reason why they can’t improve significantly on last season’s 19th place finish in the Blue Square Bet Conference.
Like boss Edinburgh I see no prospect of County challenging for automatic promotion and even a top five finish seems a stretch to me, but a top ten or even a top eight return seems possible.
The Exiles, let us not forget, were shorn of arguably their best two players before the drama began with Sam Foley and Gary Warren understandably taking up offers in League One and the SPL respectively at Yeovil Town and Inverness Caledonian Thistle.
However, far from looking weaker the Exiles have added well in most areas, particularly in attack where they should be miles ahead of last term.
Goalkeeper Alan Julian can’t really be judged on an injury hit pre-season but new man Tony James has looked assured and in central defence Andrew Hughes has been the stand-out performer.
Andy Sandell and skipper David Pipe represent superb ‘keeps’ and both lead by example.
The Exiles have five central midfielder vying for three starting positions and that looks a nice balance with Jake Thomson and Lee Evans providing the flair, Lee Minshull and Max Porter the engine and Mike Flynn the guile and hopefully goals.
The return of prodigal son Flynn should be massive, in a month or so when he is fully fit I expect him to be among the very best players in the division. At 31, it’s been clear from pre-season alone he still has the legs and the desire to make a huge impact.
To steal a phrase from the youngsters, Evans is a ‘baller’ and personally I feel he’s the brightest young star I’ve seen in eight years of covering the club.
I don’t want to ratchet up any unnecessary pressure, but the youngster has a superb ability to retain possession and a range of passing that should suit the improved playing surface at Rodney Parade down to the ground.
The Exiles should have a nice fluidity with their front three with Aaron O’Connor, Ben Swallow and Ryan Charles likely to provide the cut and thrust. All three of them have exceptional workrates and Danny Crow and Jefferson Louis look like very capable goalscorers at this level.
And let us not forget young Jake Harris, another youngster going from strength to strength. If his career development continues it’s going to be practically impossible to leave him out as the weeks go on.
There is a lovely balance to the County squad – though personally I’d love to see one more defender join – and there can be no debate and no argument that the style of football displayed in pre-season has been infinitely improved from last term.
With the wonderful opportunity of playing right in the city centre at a stonking new ground with a much-improved squad and a manager with a clear plan, Newport County AFC should be feeling optimistic about this season.
They can do well enough in the league to secure an average gate of 2,000 plus and events off the field may even enable significant strengthening in January.
A tangible run in the FA Cup has been a long time coming for County and that or another trip to Wembley in the FA Trophy alongside a solid league campaign, will represent a fine start to life at Rodney Parade.
County are more than capable of bringing the good times back to the city. Just watch them go.