The BIG Conference preview
8:00am Saturday 11th August 2012 in Newport County
ARGUS football writers MICHAEL PEARLMAN and ANDREW PENMAN gaze into their crystal ball and make their predictions on the new Conference campaign.
- Who will be County’s key player?
AP: Judging from pre-season, Jefferson Louis looks like he’ll be the main goalscorer – as long as he sticks around for more than five minutes!
Tony James has an important role to play in replacing Gary Warren at the heart of the defence but most important has to be Mike Flynn.
When he gets himself up to full fitness Flynn will bring much-needed Football League quality to a midfield that has been stripped of Danny Rose and Sam Foley this year.
MP: It’s hard for me to pick anyone that isn’t Mike Flynn after campaigning for his signing the past two years, but I’m going to go for the most exciting 18-year old in Welsh football, Lee Evans.
I’ve been covering County longer than I care to remember and Evans is the first player I’ve seen at the Exiles who I believe has a chance to play at the top table.
I genuinely believe he has Premier League and international football in his future if he keeps progressing. He can be County’s version of Neil Taylor.
The boy, as the kids say, is a straight up ‘baller’.
- Which County player are you most looking forward to watching?
AP: Watching Lee Evans’ progress in midfield will be an exciting part of this season but, in terms of immediate impact, I’ve been very impressed with what I’ve seen of Aaron O’Connor.
Justin Edinburgh looks certain to start with a three-pronged attack and O’Connor will frighten opposition full-backs all season.
MP: Having made clear my high hopes for Evans, I’d plump for Flynny in this category because there is nothing more satisfying than seeing one of your own leading the way.
Flynn is a Newport boy through and through and has the pedigree to lead by example. I think the effect he has on everyone in the squad can be enormous both as a player and as a leader. In Flynn and David Pipe, County essentially have two captains.
- What is your number one wish for County this season?
AP: Not to be in a relegation fight from the middle of September would be great. And hopefully the standard of football will improve massively as last season was a bit of a chore on both counts.
MP: The same thing I’ve wanted for eight years, a run in the FA Cup beyond round one. The prospect of County playing at a Premier League ground is mouthwatering and the Exiles are long overdue progression in the best domestic cup on the planet.
- Will County benefit from the move to Rodney Parade?
AP: Undoubtedly. First impressions have been very good. The pitch may struggle in the winter but it will still be a hundred times better than the surface at Spytty last season and that should allow the Exiles to showcase their passing game.
MP: Without question. It should mean big things for County on and off the pitch. The atmosphere should be improved and match day revenue higher. Most crucially, the awful pitch at Spytty Park is left behind.
- Who will win the Conference this season?
AP: I think this could finally be Luton’s year after several heartbreaking misses. The trip to Kenilworth Road is always one of the highlights of the season for me but this could be the last one for a while.
MP: Just to be different I will go for Mansfield.
I believe the Stags were the best side I saw last season and they’ve spent big since then. They have a superb support to rival Luton and in our old mate Matt Green have a goalscorer likely to exceed 25 goals. I believe Exiles fans are watching the champions elect today and anything that isn’t defeat will represent a magnificent result.
- Where will County finish?
AP: After the dreary struggle to 19th last season, I’d settle for mid-table mediocrity this year. But if Edinburgh’s smallish squad stays injury free and he can add extra quality here and there then a top-10 finish and a late charge for the play-offs may be a possibility. I’ll predict the Exiles will end up ninth.
MP: I believe this will come down to how County start. If they get off to a flyer I can see investment in January allowing for further improvements in the squad and then who knows?
But cautiously I’ll tip a top eight finish, just outside the playoffs.