NEWPORT County AFC defender Tony James believes the playoffs are a realistic aim for the Exiles as their Blue Square Bet Conference campaign gets under way today.

It’s an extremely tough start for Newport who travel to second-favourites for promotion Mansfield Town, who clobbered County 5-0 in the corresponding fixture last term.

However, after a positive pre-season, new signing James is confident the coming campaign can be one to remember for the Rodney Parade outfit.

The 33-year-old Cwmbran-born defender has already tasted Conference promotion and believes his local club is on the cusp of something special.

“I feel we can challenge, I’m of an age now that if I didn’t believe that I wouldn’t have wanted to come here, I have faith in the manager and the quality of player at the club,” he explained.

“I think we can honestly be a match for anyone in the division which is wide open.

“I don’t want to waste my time at a club with no ambition but that’s exactly why I picked Newport County.

“You only enjoy football when you’re winning and even though we might not set the world alight, we can be very, very competitive.

“Our immediate aim is to start out as a top ten team and stay there until around the New Year.

“There is no reason we can’t achieve that and if we do, there is no reason to think we can’t make the playoffs.

“We can push on if we get a good start and we are determined to.”

James is impressed with the quality of the Exiles squad and in particular the signings made by Edinburgh who has reshaped his ranks all summer.

“We’ve not got the biggest squad but the quality is there,” he said.

“A lot of the boys from last season have stayed and the players that have come in, guys like Mike Flynn, Danny Crow and Aaron O’Connor, are obviously of proven quality and can make a big impact.

“The manager has taken his time to get the right players and I think we can surprise a lot of people.”

Two players in particular have caught James’ eye.

“The two youngsters Andrew Hughes and Lee Evans are technically excellent,” he said.

“The way the gaffer wants us to play is all about possession and passing from the back to the front and those two players fit that perfectly.

“I’ve been really impressed with them both.”

James is also confident that Rodney Parade will provide the Exiles with a new dimension.

“The noise should be excellent, it’s a very impressive ground and the pitch is good,” he said.

“I’ve heard all about the playing surface at Spytty Park from the boys, horror stories really, and I am sure the new place will help us to stamp our authority.”