Exiles fall at first hurdle as worrying slump continues
ON paper this was a classic cup shock. A team riding high in the top division and finalists the season before, knocked out in the first round by plucky lower-league underdogs.
In reality not one Newport County AFC fan will be hugely surprised by their team’s FA Trophy exit at Welling United on Saturday.
After a phenomenal start to the season the Exiles seem to have hit a brick wall.
This 2-0 loss at a wet and wild Park View Road was their fifth defeat in six matches and they have now won only one in eight.
You could call it a blip but the real blip in that sequence appears to be the glorious 6-2 thumping of Cambridge United.
Take that away and Justin Edinburgh’s men have not really hit top form since the win at Tamworth in early October.
The manager seems at a loss to explain the dramatic slump in form but the real shock on Saturday was the way his side meekly surrendered to their hosts.
County started brightly enough on a gloomy autumn afternoon and should have been ahead as early as the second minute when Michael Smith’s far post header was somehow blocked on the line.
But as soon as they went behind, somewhat against the run of play when Joe Healy headed past Alan Julian on 36 minutes, the fight seemed to disappear.
Substitute Ben Martin doubled the Wings’ advantage just before the hour and County limped out of the competition they nearly won last year with barely a whimper.
The home side, with player-manager Jamie Day dominating the midfield battle, were hugely impressive.
They are challenging for promotion to the Conference and are full of confidence, something really lacking in the Exiles squad at the moment.
In fact, it could have been much a more embarrassing defeat had it not been for an encouraging display from Julian.
The former Stevenage stopper admitted that his competitive debut against Hyde had been a difficult experience but he was much more assured on Saturday.
Both goals were as a result of poor marking from set-pieces – the first from a perfect free-kick delivery by Day – and Julian could do nothing to prevent the close-range headers from hitting the net.
But he certainly kept the score respectable with a series of superb saves as Welling threatened to really humiliate their Conference opponents.
With super sub Jake Harris thrown on in a forlorn attempt to repeat his Trophy heroics against Northwich Victoria last season, the visitors were caught on the break several times late on.
Time and again the long ball over the top saw Healy and Ross Lafayette get beyond Ismail Yakubu and Tony James only to be denied by Julian.
Byron Anthony came in for the unavailable David Pipe at right-back and it’s perhaps unfair to judge his performance too harshly as he was out of position and he’ll clearly need time to regain match fitness.
The defensive errors are a real concern for Edinburgh, however, with even the peerless Yakubu and Tony James suffering a dip in form.
The Exiles midfield is also being outfought too easily and even talisman Aaron O’Connor lacked spark up front.
Even more worrying is a hint of unrest in the camp with midfielder Jake Thomson taking to Twitter to vent his frustration at being left out of the squad.
The County players, manager and staff have always stressed that the team spirit in the camp is their strongest asset.
They need to prove that now and show the battling qualities that have been absent for a number of weeks.
Dreams of a return to Wembley in the FA Trophy are dead and buried and after lowly Yate Town dumped them out of the FA Cup there is only the league to focus on.
At the moment automatic promotion is still a real possibility, as is a trip to England’s national stadium in the play-offs, but everyone at the club knows that they have to stop the rot quickly if a great opportunity is not to be lost.
That is easier said than done with a tough trip to Gateshead next up followed by the game at home to promotion rivals Luton Town.
But County need to find a way to get over that wall, and fast, if a season that promised so much is not to unravel completely.
Welling: Mott, Fazackerley, McLaren, Day, Franks (Martin, 45), Acheampong, Fairweather-Johnson (Hughes-Mason, 46), Gallagher, Guthrie, Lafayette, Healy Subs not used: Main, Flack, Kinch
County: Julian, Sandell, Anthony, James, Yakubu, Porter (Flynn, 59), Minshull (Evans, 51), Swallow, Jolley (Harris, 71), Smith, O’Connor Subs not used: Pidgeley, Washington
Referee: Chris Powell
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