It took just 90 minutes at Twerton Park on Tuesday evening for the feel good factor that had been established over the New Year to evaporate, as County lost their crucial relegation battle against Bath City 3-2. The defeat was a stark reminder that, in relegation battles, points on the board are often more valuable than games in hand and undid all the good work Chris Blight and his fellow directors had done in establishing hope, unity and expectation for the remainder of the season.
The evening started well enough for Newport, as Nat Jarvis marked his return to the club with a poachers goal, knocking home the rebound after Andrew Hughes’ cross had hit the post. However, County’s inability to hold an away lead, already demonstrated in recent times at both Grimsby Town and Alfreton Town, was once again exposed as Bath scored twice in seven minutes through Connelly and Canham to earn a deserved 2-1 lead at the interval, as Bath played the neater football and created the better chances. Any words of wisdom offered by Justin Edinburgh at half time were then quickly quashed as Bath extended their lead through the impressive Scott Murray, who produced an exquisite dummy to create sufficient space to strike his shot past Danny Potter, the County keeper. Despite pulling a goal back through a Gary Warren header, Newport were unable to find the equaliser they so desperately needed, meaning that only a superior goal difference is keeping them above the relegation zone.
The inquest into what went wrong was already in full swing by half time, as supporters tried to come to terms with the fact that Newport were being outplayed by a team who were bottom of the league with only two league wins all season. However, Bath City are a better side than their position currently indicates and this win was another indicator of improved confidence and form after a recent victory over Telford United and draws with Mansfield, Kettering and Cambridge. The defeat may therefore not be the impending message of doom that many currently think it is.
There are a number of factors that will potentially determine Newport’s fate over the coming months. The first of these is the pitch at Spytty Park, which is widely acknowledged to be in poor condition. The picture below, taken by Sam Shingler during the home match with Fleetwood in December, gives a clear indication of the mudbath in the goal mouth. Given that the pitch is also cutting up in other areas and is in poor condition around the centre circle as well, it is perhaps not surprising that Newport’s home record is so poor.
Photo reproduced with kind permission of Sam Shingler
Captain Gary Warren recently argued that the pitch should be an advantage to Newport because County are used to playing on it, whereas visiting sides are concerned about the conditions and the impact the pitch will have on their passing games. There is a sense in which there should perhaps be truth in this statement, but County’s home record suggests that the opposite is actually the reality as the club have lost five of their last seven games at Spytty. Whilst three of those games were against promotion seeking Southport, Luton and Fleetwood, the other two defeats were to Tamworth and Ebbsfleet, teams which, with respect, County need to beat if they want to be playing in the Conference Premier next season. In contrast, whilst the two recent away defeats against Alfreton and Bath have been a disaster, a record of two wins and three draws from the last eight away games represents excellent form for a team in the lower reaches of the division and suggests that County are actually capable of competing at this level when they play on a decent surface.
The sale of Danny Rose has undoubtedly left a hole in midfield and his absence at Twerton Park, along with that of Sam Foley, contributed to the lacklustre performance. This leaves Justin Edinburgh with some tough decisions to make during the January transfer window. The manager has been extremely open in acknowledging that some of the players are not demonstrating the work ethic and commitment required to lift the club out of trouble, but the limited resources at Spytty means that it is not really a financially viable option to release players from their contracts. The excellent reputation of the manager, who spent much of his playing career at Tottenham Hotpsur, should help to attract players to the club but the decision has to be made as to whether to recruit seasoned professionals who have proven ability at conference level or young hopefuls who have shown promise in the lower leagues. Purchasing talented youngsters is always a risk in that time may prove them to be insufficiently equipped to cope with football at Conference level, but signing seasoned professionals is just as risky given that they may not have the same level of passion in playing for Newport as a younger player who is trying to progress in the game. The decision to bring back Nat Jarvis from Cardiff for the remainder of the season looks like a shrewd move, with the player netting in his first game since returning at Twerton Park. However, it is the midfield that requires the most attention.
The third factor is the supporters themselves. County are renowned for their vocal and passionate supporters and the very fact that 430 made their way across to Bath for a Tuesday night fixture, given County’s perilous league position, speaks volumes for their commitment and enthusiasm for the club. With the players facing, to use the old cliché, 20 cup finals between now and the end of the season, it is critically important that the fans remain fully committed to the cause, both in terms of the number of supporters attending matches and in terms of providing positive support. Attitude is such an important factor in professional sport and having the encouragement and belief of a vocal support that truly believe the club can survive could potentially make all the difference.
Back in 1990-1 Sheffield United, who were newly promoted to the top flight, had gained just 4 points from their opening 17 encounters before Christmas. The club were marooned at the foot of the table and everybody outside the club had already written the Blades off as relegated. However, the acquisition of Vinny Jones, a footballer of only average ability but immense leadership quality, helped turn the clubs fortunes around to such an extent that they went on a winning streak of 7 matches and finished 13th in the table. The incredible thing about that situation was that the fans of the club still believed they could stay up, even when the performances and the statistics clearly stated otherwise. With that kind of belief and camaraderie at Spytty Park, Newport County too will survive, allowing Justin Edinburgh to build a side in his own mould that will fair much better next season.
Kaitlyn Corner – The Views of a 5 Year Old
“I felt sad when Bath won 3-2 because I love Newport so much. I wish Newport were number 1, at the top.”
I guess that mirrors the thoughts of every Newport County fan. Let’s hope they stay up this season and then follow Wrexham (hopefully) into the football league next season.