BRADFORD’S late goal in Barrow should have led to cheers in south Wales as well as Yorkshire.

Newport County AFC play their 57th and final game of a long, draining season at Valley Parade on Saturday and the atmosphere, at kick-off at least, should be crackling.

The Bantams have an outside shot at making the play-offs and there promises to be plenty of energy in the ground for as long as the hosts are in the running and the scores at Barrow and Crawley are kind.

That should thrill the Exiles.

They could have been heading to League Two’s best stadium with both sides having pride and placings to play for.

Now there is something serious on the line and that is a bonus for County, even if they are huge underdogs because of their injury list and the respective form guides.

The Exiles are on a seven-game losing streak while Bradford have climbed into contention thanks to five wins and a draw from their last six.

Graham Coughlan’s side may be 17th in the table but it has been a season to remember with plenty of big occasions – record-chasing Stockport in Newport, Wrexham away and then home, the Eastleigh replay and then the Manchester United tie.

Swindon always has a bit of an edge because of the relative proximity in a northern division and the February win had a bit more spice because everyone was still on a high after giving the Red Devils a scare.

County have shown they are a side who can rise to the occasion but clearly this is a very different XI because of the unavailable list.

Nonetheless, the Exiles can embrace the challenge at a 25,000-capacity stadium and maybe even take advantage of some nerves and desperation.

South Wales Argus: DANGEROUS: Bradford talisman Andy CookDANGEROUS: Bradford talisman Andy Cook (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Injuries and a suspension mean that County head to Yorkshire without what could have been a pretty strong defence of Shane McLoughlin, Josh Seberry, James Clarke, Ryan Delaney and Adam Lewis.

Last week against Salford Coughlan stuck with the central trio of Matt Baker, teenage first-year academy scholar Nelson Sanca and Kyle Jameson with Harrison Bright on the right and fit-again attack-minded wing-back Matty Bondswell down the left.

Stalwart Scot Bennett was deployed as a midfield shield with Harry Charsley, who is out of contract this summer, interestingly left out after some quiet displays.

The Ammies left physical frontman Matt Smith on the bench and only turned to him with eight to go… and he promptly hit the post, then struck the winner.

Now County face a tussle with hefty Andy Cook, who was League Two top scorer last season and has 16 strikes and seven assists in the current campaign.

That’s a slightly scary prospect for a very inexperienced defence with former Exiles loanee Calum Kavanagh an option to provide the legs and energy after moving from Middlesbrough on a permanent deal in January.

Cook bullied County - and especially Declan Drysdale - in the Bantams' 4-1 win at Rodney Parade in September that temporarily lifted some of the pressure building on former Wales boss Mark Hughes.

South Wales Argus: THINKING: County boss Graham Coughlan is weighing up his squad options for next seasonTHINKING: County boss Graham Coughlan is weighing up his squad options for next season (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Provided there isn’t a pitch invasion after a Bradford miracle, it will be interesting to watch the interactions between players and the Amber Army at the final whistle.

Plenty of the squad are approaching the final weeks of their contracts and perhaps there will be clues with any exaggerated waves to the travelling support.

Coughlan has insisted that talks will be held face-to-face at the end of the campaign but players aren’t daft, they know if fresh terms are coming. Some might even have agreements lined up elsewhere.

All eyes on Scot Bennett – the stalwart has been at County permanently since 2016 and signed a one-year contract last summer.

Bradford will be his 367th for the club, will he make 400? The defender/midfielder is surely worth another year.