WILL Evans was rightly the big winner when Newport County AFC’s awards were given out at Rodney Parade last Saturday but one of his teammates deservedly got some major recognition.

The Exiles’ top scorer won the club’s gongs for players’ player of the year and supporters’ player of the year while his fellow forward Seb Palmer-Houlden was named as young player of the year.

But a man at the other end of the pitch was a big winner when it came to the Official Supporters Club awards – goalkeeper Nick Townsend won player of the year and away player of the year.

It hasn’t been plain sailing for the 29-year-old this season, with one notable low in Sutton to start 2024, but come Saturday night he will certainly be able to reflect on a strong campaign.

South Wales Argus: IMPRESSIVE: Nick Townsend has been a leading figure for County this seasonIMPRESSIVE: Nick Townsend has been a leading figure for County this season (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The way that County have finished League Two means that there is a summer of hard work ahead.

Seven straight losses have probably tipped manager Graham Coughlan from just tinkering to his squad for 2024/25 to big changes.

There is a lot to do in recruitment and plenty problem areas to be addressed off the field, with the goalkeeping situation well, well, well down the priority list.

Townsend has prospered from the Exiles getting the balance right – he has been kept on his toes by Jonny Maxted but is rightly the club’s number one.

The West Midlander has been part of duels for the start in recent seasons with Joe Day (twice) and Tom King but now he is first choice.

That doesn’t mean that Townsend, who swapped his 30 squad number for 1 last summer, is in a comfort zone.

Before County allowed Day to leave on loan for Woking last summer (he would then head to Yeovil and help the Glovers to promotion to the National League), they had Maxted lined up.

The seasoned campaigner had already featured in pre-season on trial and was given a deal as part of the three-man team, providing a credible and experienced rival for Townsend when working with goalkeeping coach James Hollman.

South Wales Argus: TEAM: County goalkeeping coach James Hollman, Jonny Maxted and Nick TownsendTEAM: County goalkeeping coach James Hollman, Jonny Maxted and Nick Townsend (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Townsend has made 51 appearances out of 56 fixtures in all competitions this season while Maxted has played six times (a half-time introduction at Barrow plus League Two outings versus Swindon, Walsall and Accrington, the League Cup clash with Brentford and EFL Trophy trip to Cheltenham).

The County stalwart has nine clean sheets, is third in the division for saves made, fourth for saves per 90 minutes (3.1) and 12th for save percentage (67).

All that behind a defence that has chopped and changed because of injuries throughout the campaign.

Townsend, who turned down a call-up by Antigua and Barbuda in the autumn to keep his spot, produced a ridiculously good performance at Doncaster in January to allow Palmer-Houlden to turn one point into three at the death.

He was agonisingly close to earning a share of the spoils despite a Stockport onslaught, was exceptional in the 0-0 against MK Dons at Rodney Parade produced a fine stop at Gillingham before Omar Bogle's double.

South Wales Argus: DENIED: Nick Townsend produced a big save in Gillingham at 0-0 in County's 2-0 winDENIED: Nick Townsend produced a big save in Gillingham at 0-0 in County's 2-0 win (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

Townsend showed his mental strength to recover from a mix-up with Offrande Zanzala to pull off a string of saves to keep County in it at Grimsby, albeit they never really looked like burgling a draw, while he was immense at Colchester to give a chance of a backs-to-the-wall win.

His distribution can be a little iffy and he isn’t the most commanding of ‘keepers (although that has also been affected by the lack of continuity at centre-back) but he is up there among the best in the division.

Stockport’s Ben Hinchliffe is probably the top performer this season even if Wrexham’s Arsenal prospect Arthur Okonkwo, who was excellent versus County, was named in the League Two team of the year.

Every ‘keeper makes clangers but County have an experienced and quality operator who has surely made Coughlan reassess his angry – and rash – comments made in the immediate aftermath of the draw at Sutton.

A win was on the cards until Townsend was on his toes for the hosts to score a late leveller from a corner.

“The goalkeeping situation has been an issue since I came into the club, we just can't seem to nail it down,” said the manager.

Coughlan has since learnt that he has much more pressing matters ahead of next season, and at 29 Townsend is yet to hit his goalkeeping peak.