DEFENDING South Wales Premier League champions Newport believe they can retain their title after bouncing back from a disastrous start to the season, according to coach Mike Knight.

Having beaten Cardiff on first weekend of the new campaign, the 2016 and 2018 top-flight winners then lost five games in succession to leave them rock bottom of the Division One table.

At that stage, the chances of back-to-back championships couldn’t have been more remote, but with a double over Cardiff secured last Saturday, Newport are now back in the race for the top prize.

They may be seventh in the standings, but Knight’s side have cut the gap between them and leaders St Fagans to 22 points – and the frontrunners visit Spytty Park next weekend.

The visitors to Newport tomorrow, eighth-placed Mumbles, got the better of St Fagans last time out, and go into the clash with Knight’s men looking to do the double over the reigning champions.

But Knight says there is a growing confidence within the Newport squad that they can pull off what would be a remarkable title triumph given their shocking start.

“The players at this club have got a massive will to win,” he said.

“They don’t know when they are beaten.

“There is definitely a feeling within the dressing room at the moment that we can win the league.”

Newport host Mumbles following a nervy 13-run defeat of Cardiff that took their winning run to four matches.

A disappointing pre-season, according to Knight, and the subsequent unavailability of key players accounted for Newport’s poor early season form.

However, with the likes of youngsters Jack Wright, Charlie Stewart and Nathan Berry stepping up to the plate, and experienced heads like Matt Norris returning, things are now very much back on track.

“Our pre-season training wasn’t good enough,” added Knight.

“I don’t think we got everyone on the field during the pre-season matches, so that’s one area we’ve got to look at next year.

“It let us down in the first few games and everything was made worse by some big players not being available.

“We made it really difficult for ourselves with that poor run, and in most sports, if you lose five of your first six games then you probably haven’t got a chance of winning the title.

“Results will have to go our way if we are to do it, but we’ve won our last four and we’re just starting to get the team back together.

“We’re not looking at the bottom of the league now, we’re looking at the top, and if we win all our remaining matches then who knows where it can take us.”

Meanwhile, the scrap to avoid the drop in Division Two continues tomorrow, and there is a big Gwent derby to add a bit of spice to the relegation battle.

Malpas, who are top of the bottom four, make the short trip to Newport Fugitives after being involved in a thriller against Gorseinon at Bettws Lane last weekend.

James Francis was left stranded on 99 not out after hitting a six off the final ball to tie the game.

Nathan Millichip’s Fugitives go into the encounter on the back of a 47-run reverse to Newbridge, who head west to leaders Swansea.

Bottom club Panteg will be desperate to close the 15-point gap on the Fugitives when they travel to Gorseinon.

In South East Wales League Division One, leaders Chepstow are flying, with six straight wins giving them a healthy 33-point buffer at the summit.

They go for seven on the bounce at Croesyceiliog tomorrow as the chasing pack, which includes Abergavenny, Usk and Sudbrook, try to hang on to their coat tails.

Abergavenny host Blackwood and the other two meet in Usk, while there is a big match for Monmouth at the other end of the table.

Things haven’t quite gone to plan for Monmouth following their promotion last summer, but a win over Cardiff Gymkhana, the side immediately above them, could see Adam Roberts’ team climb one or two places.