THERE was so much to admire about Newport County AFC for much of the League Two season but now it’s hard to find positives.

The Exiles suffered a seventh straight loss at Rodney Parade on Saturday when Salford’s Matt Smith struck in added time for a 1-0 win.

County started reasonably with Omar Bogle glancing a header wide but then dropped off in a low-key, low-quality game.

Salford failed to make the most of a number of Exiles defensive slips, Bogle hit the top of the crossbar with a free-kick and then the visitors struck in added time.

Top scorer Smith, who had come on as a late substitute and headed against the post shortly before the winner, smashed in after Junior Luamba burst into the box and was denied by the woodwork.

South Wales Argus: WINNER: Matt Smith struck at the death for Salford at Rodney ParadeWINNER: Matt Smith struck at the death for Salford at Rodney Parade (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Ammies ended their four-game losing streak in Newport while it would be a huge surprise if County’s doesn’t increase to eight in Bradford on Saturday.

It will be a pleasant surprise if a new-look side doesn’t go into the first game of 2024/25 with a nightmare run that they have inherited.

County are unrecognisable from the side that was well away from relegation danger and daring to dream of the play-offs in mid-March.

Let’s not pretend that the Exiles were even close to being as pleasing on the eye as Notts County, MK Dons or Crawley, even if they were capable of nice spells of play.

They rarely had the majority of possession or more passes but they did have edge, energy, bite and a big work rate.

County had a plan and they played to their strengths whereas now they are devoid of confidence, sluggish, sloppy and second-best in all departments.

It’s been an extremely tough watch and it has tainted what had been a pretty good campaign that featured exceptional highs against Brentford, Manchester United, Stockport and Wrexham.

That credit in the bank has ensured that there has been quiet disappointment at the final whistle of the defeats to Crawley, Accrington, Tranmere and Salford rather than boos that normally follow seven-game losing streaks.

County’s fans understand the situation and the challenges but the League Two run-in has killed the feelgood factor that was building after the Huw Jenkins takeover, win against Wrexham and the performance and buzz of the United FA Cup tie.

South Wales Argus: County's Harry Charsley as the squad thank the fans for their support throughout the seasonCounty's Harry Charsley as the squad thank the fans for their support throughout the season (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


What the difference a month makes.

In mid-March, most would have said this squad just needs a bit of strengthening through minor changes. Now the axe could be wielded and people won’t be alarmed.

This isn’t an over-reaction to a testing period when stretched by injury; there are plenty of players approaching the end of County contracts who have failed to grasp opportunities.

Question marks aren’t just next to those who are approaching the end of their deals, the size of the roles by those who are set to be on the books for 2024/25 must be reassessed.

Flaws revealed in the run-in will still exist after the summer. At a time when County needed players to stand up, plenty have gone missing.

Joe Day and Sam Bowen are examples of what could happen to some of those who have disappointed in the last seven games.

County can’t just stand still and expect that the same again with some minor improvements will be enough to be genuine top-seven contenders.

The rest of the division will get better and invest while Carlisle, Port Vale and Chesterfield are likely to be mixing it towards the top.

Last year it was a monumental blow to lose Cameron Norman, Mickey Demetriou, Aaron Lewis and Priestley Farquharson but nobody on the list of potential summer leavers (perhaps Delaney?) would be as crushing as any of that quartet.

This run-in could mean the exit list is long, and plenty of those heading for the door face a summer of being ‘Trialist A’ rather than swiftly being picked up by other clubs.

South Wales Argus: DESPAIR: Omar Bogle after glancing a header wide for CountyDESPAIR: Omar Bogle after glancing a header wide for County (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


One of Coughlan’s criticisms in his post-match interview struck a chord: “We lack leadership on the pitch, there are no generals or anybody to organise them, we don’t speak, and we can’t string passes together.”

The 2020/21 season provided some fascinating insights courtesy of games being played behind closed doors and it revealed the noisy ones.

Leadership doesn’t have to be in an angry, shouty way – Ryan Delaney is hardly a bawler but he’s been badly missed.

It was also notable that Coughlan previously praised academy first-year scholar Jac Norris for his bravery, who was an unused substitute against Salford after having cameos in the previous three games.

The teenager briefly displayed an admirable trait that Josh Sheehan and Matty Dolan frequently displayed, even when the going got tough, of demanding the ball and accepting the pressure that goes with it.

Nobody has grabbed control of games when things have been flat in recent times even when it wouldn't have take a dramatic improvement to edge out Accrington, Tranmere and Salford, three teams who headed to Rodney Parade safe from the drop.

County probably didn’t have enough leaders before the second injury crisis, so it is an area that needs addressing this summer.

Coughlan needs a holiday but his to-do list for May, June and July has grown considerably since March.