Stockport County 2 Newport County 2
Saturday, 11 February 2012
Edgeley Park, Stockport
Despite the very real possibility of a trip to Wembley in the FA Trophy after the spectacular 4-0 demolition of Carshalton Athletic in midweek, Newport County were well aware that the most important match of the week, and quite possibly of the season, was the weekend relegation encounter against Stockport County at Edgeley Park.
Whilst the two teams came into the game in totally contrasting moods, this owed more to transfer activity than it did to recent form on the field, as both clubs having been showing evidence in recent weeks that they have sufficient quality to survive the drop. On the pitch Newport, in addition to making the quarter finals of the FA Trophy, have also drawn at home to Forest Green Rovers and beaten Gateshead at the International Stadium after two late goals from Sam Foley and Jake Harris gave The Exiles an unlikely 3-2 victory. Stockport have also shown similar signs of improvement with a 2-1 victory over high flying Kidderminster in their last league outing following on from draws against Telford and Braintree Town.
The difference is that Newport County, after signing the likes of Lee Minshull, Ryan Charles and Andy Sandell, in addition to discovering what may be a special goalscoring talent in Jake Harris, have made themselves into a stronger, quicker outfit that is far more suited to Conference football than the side that entered into the January transfer window. In contrast, Stockport have lost 4 of the 16 man squad that featured in the New Year’s Day victory against Barrow after manager Jim Gannon acknowledged that trimming the wage bill and securing the long term future of the club was more important than ensuring Conference survival. Consequently, locally born goalkeeper Matt Glennon was released by the club on 31 January to the disappointment of many County fans, whilst former Irish under 19 international Sam Sheridan was sent out on a month’s loan to Southport, despite having made 20 appearances for Stockport. Mark Lynch, Ryan McCann, John Miles, Chris Blackburn and Jon Routledge also left the club in January, leaving Jim Gannon with a smaller squad and perhaps a bit less quality than he had at the start of January.
As if the departure of seven players within a month was not enough, Lord Snape, the Stockport chairman, was forced to announce that Stockport would continue playing football in their home town. This was because of the suggestion that Sale Sharks, a rugby club who effectively own Edgeley Park, are intending to move back to Salford, a decision that would force the departure of Stockport also.
Despite these problems, the evidence of the first 30 minutes of the game would have suggested to neutral observers that it was Newport that had lost important players rather than Stockport. One of the problems for the visitors was the change of personnel, with Ryan Charles returning after his suspension to replace Buchanan, who had scored twice in his previous two outings, Jake Harris being left on the bench again despite having scored four times in his previous 100 minutes or so of football and Yakubu still suspended after his sending off against Forest Green.
The home side, after taking advantage of some poor away defending to net in the 8th minute through the first of two Danny Rowe goals, were able to dominate proceedings as Newport gave the ball away too easily, and Stockport might well have had more goals as the visitors struggled to deal with balls being played over the top of the defence. However, despite creating a number of promising situations, Stockport were unable to get the crucial second goal and they were punished for this shortly after half time as Adam Sandell thundered home from 25 yards to add to his already blossoming reputation.
Much of the press coverage has claimed that Sandell turned from hero to villain in the 57th minute, as the left sided midfield was given a straight red card. It was the 7th red card that Newport have received this season and therefore would appear to be an issue of discipline that desperately needs addressing. However, more than one of the red card decisions have been extremely debatable and Sandell can consider himself extremely unlucky to receive a straight red for Referee Bond must have assumed was an elbow, though some elements of the press were suggesting that foul and abusive language was also involved.
As occurred after the sending off of Ryan Charles at Luton, Newport fell behind almost immediately after the sending off, as Danny Rowe claimed his second of the game with a free kick from the edge of the area. This seemed to have cost Newport the match and is an issue that Justin Edinburgh will have to address. If Newport are to successfully negotiate their way out of the relegation minefield, concentration is required for the full 90 minutes and focus must be maintained even in the midst of frustration and anger.
What will have pleased the manager though, is the way that the club have started to fight in recent games. Seven days ago the Gateshead game appear to be lost as County went 2-0 down and yet they fought back to claim a critical win. In similarly adverse conditions at Edgeley Park, they did it again. On both occasions the hero was Jake Harris, a 21 year old striker who was signed from Weston-super-Mare in June last year.
Jake Harris (photo courtesy of Sam Shingler) has been a revelation in his substitution appearances for County this season, scoring late winners at Worksop and Gateshead, and now getting a crucial late equaliser at Stockport County.
Despite having elected to change the forward line for this crucial encounter, Justin Edinburgh left Harris on the bench again. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult for the manager to keep the Englishman out of the team and Harris is highly likely to feature again in some capacity for another critical match against Bath at Spytty Park on Tuesday.
|Conference Premier (Bottom)||Pl||D||Pts|
|23||Hayes & Yeading||31||-24||24|
The draw was of much more value to Newport than it was to Stockport, as could be gauged by the reaction of the fans at the full time whistle. Newport, as the table above shows, are within a point of moving out of the bottom 4 and they have a game in hand on all the teams around them. With a home game against Bath City coming up on Tuesday night, weather permitting, there is real expectation that the club will move out of the relegation zone and survive.
Stockport County, on the other hand, will feel that this was a game that they should have won. Although the club have moved up a couple of places to 17th in the league, they are only two points away from the drop zone, clubs beneath them all have have a couple of games in hand, and some key players are no longer with the club. However, this result does represent a fourth consecutive league game without defeat and Stockport will be fully aware that the financial plight of both Darlington and Kettering is considerably worse than their own. It may just be that this will be the difference between survival and relegation.