Newport County Season Preview: pride back at Rodney Parade

Ahead of the new season, The Football Lab speaks to Newport County fan Taff (@AmberArmyNCFC) from the Amber Army.

The most striking thing about Newport’s 2017-18 campaign is how strongly you responded to the worst performances; defeats at Mansfield and Barnet clearly didn’t fester. Does that show that Michael Flynn has drilled battling qualities into this Exiles side?

Flynn has brought a lot of hard work, passion and togetherness to not only the team but the whole club. His appointment galvanised us. We are a much different club to the one Graham Westley left.

Robbie Willmott, Padraig Amond and the now-departed Frank Nouble all started 10 matches within a 39-day period just after the turn of the year and the goals thereon dried up. Did you have enough quality in reserve?

We had the quality but the cup run took a lot out of us. Not that I’m complaining. We still exceeded expectations and were able to highlight our weak links during our poor form.

Inside forward Keanu Marsh-Brown has always looked exciting at National League level and target man Jamille Matt looked like a tough competitor for Plymouth and Blackpool. Will the gap in quality between first choice forwards and back-ups be smaller this year?

Both are great signings and both will bring qualities we missed last season. Matt will cover the areas Nouble wasn’t able to. Marsh-Brown will run at players. We didn’t have much of that last season as Lamar Reynolds didn’t live up to his promise.

Joss Labadie picked up a serious injury in March with the team five points off the play-offs; you ended up eleven adrift. How important will it be to find a midfielder who replicates his power and leadership?

We have signed Andrew Crofts. A player with International and Premier League experience. He will be a leader for us. Even with Labadie we often lacked presence in the centre of the park and if Labadie stays, when he is fit again, we will have a very strong midfield.

Since joining you in 2014, Joe Day has never failed to reach double figures for clean sheets in a season. Are you pleased with his consistency?

Joe Day is arguably the best shot stopper in League 2. His distribution and command of his area let’s him down although he improves every year with these areas. He can be mistake prone but I think he wins us a lot of points on his own regardless of how many clean sheets he keeps.

Defender Ben White, who by all accounts did superbly on loan last year, has gone back to Brighton. Can Fraser Franks replace him?

Ben White is a player with Premier League quality. There is no replacing him. Fraser Franks though is a solid League 2 defender. We will be able to rely on him to defend for us. I think the Ben White void needs recovering in the midfield as his play going forward is what separated him from the rest.

You dabbled with three-at-the-back a fair bit last season. Do you feel the extra centre-back gives you more protection for Mickey Demetriou and Mark O’Brien, or do you prefer the standard back-four?

I am a fan of a back 3 as long as the wings are well covered. Having Dan Butler and signing Tyler Forbes allows me to lean to the back 3 option.

If you play with wing-backs, you might be asking a lot for David Pipe to cover all that ground every week at 34. Was Tyler Hornby-Forbes an important signing?

Pipe although 34 years old is incredibly fit so I feel we can rely on him to play wing back. I feel he will be behind Forbes in the pecking order though. Forbes is important as it was a bit of a gap position last year, right back. Often Ben White had to cover there and was better as a centre back in my opinion.

Left-back Dan Butler won Player of the Year last season and he’s only 23! Excited by his development?

Dan Butler was by far the most improved player I’ve ever seen at Newport County from one season to the next. His defensive game was vastly improved last year. No doubt Wayne Hatswell had a part in that.

You did appear to rely at times on set pieces and the long throws of Ben Tozer (now at Cheltenham). Would it be fair of me to suggest you might have hoped for a tad more from Matty Dolan, or perhaps Josh Sheehan, in terms of creativity in open play?

Dolan has bags of ability but too often fails to show it. I hope he has a better season this time around. Sheehan had come back from a serious injury and didn’t get a good enough run in the starting line-up to pick up some form. Next season will be a big one for Sheehan.

What are your thoughts ahead of the League Two season as a whole? Any potential dark horses for you?

Can’t help but think Lincoln and Notts County will have good seasons. Tranmere will be back strong and I hope MK Dons have a rotten year.

Where will you finish?

Top 10. Making steady progress under Flynn. 11th last year so top 10 will be a great step up again. I think we need to build off the field before we talk about promotion. Although I wouldn’t rule it out this time around.

Thanks to Taff for his answers. The Football Lab’s verdict on the Exiles can be found on We Love Betting from late July.