NEW and improved Newport County AFC are making a big splash across South Wales, according to Premier League defender Chris Gunter.

The former Tottenham and Nottingham Forest defender starts for Wales tonight against Belgium and is Newport born and bred, his family still living in the city.

He was a keen follower of the Exiles last year when close friend and ex-Forest teammate Karl Darlow was with them and insists he is now hearing more than ever about the extraordinary progress of the club who are third in the Conference with crowds up over 300 per cent on last season.

“Winning five games on the spin at the start of the season shows real intent and is incredibly difficult to do at any level,” he said. “I’ve known they’ve steadily improved over the last few years but now there seems to be a real purpose about them, only one step away from the Football League.

“The move to Rodney Parade was a massive step. A few of my mates, some have always gone to watch County, but a lot of them hadn’t ever been until this season and now they are fanatical!

“My friends were really upbeat after the Hereford game. There were 4,500 people there I’m told and they said the goals by Andy Sandell and Aaron O’Connor, were incredible.

“It sounds like it’s a great atmosphere down there. They’ve got so much potential with a fan base like that. You’ve also got the FAW headquarters going into Newport and it feels like the city is going places in a football sense.

“My parents still live in Newport and I always look out for the County score.” Gunter’s ties with the Exiles’ new home go all the way back to childhood when he used to watch his cousin Jonathan Pritchard play rugby for Newport RFC.

“I went quite regularly, years ago, it’s a brilliant stadium and I can imagine the noise with football fans there. I heard plenty about them when Karl was there last season and have told my mates I really want to get to a game soon to experience it for myself.

“At the end of the day Newport is home for me and I’d love to have a Football League team from my city. They seem to be attracting new fans all the time. Apparently quite a lot of Cardiff fans have been going to support them as well.”

Wales boss Chris Coleman has also been impressed with the progress from County, having sent them a good luck message before their FA Trophy final at Wembley last season against York City.