Newport County have had a rollercoaster of a ride since returning to the Football League back in 2013. They have had seven managers, a change in ownership and most notably of all, a ‘great escape’. Now, two years on from that last-ditch survival in 2017 to keep them in the league, they have a chance to reach the third tier of English football for the first time since 1987.
Following a steady 11th place finish in the previous campaign (as well as a significant cup run), the beginning of the 2018-19 season brought about optimistic hopes for Newport fans as their maturing squad continued to improve. In particular, the signings of proven goalscorer, Jamille Matt and experienced defender, Fraser Franks looked to be suring things up that little bit more for Newport.
The season began with a grating 3-0 defeat away to Mansfield Town but Flynn insisted that this was not a time to panic and the team responded in the best fashion the following week with a hard-fought 1-0 at home to Crewe Alexandra to get them off the mark. County then enjoyed a run of four wins in five to rocket up to 2nd place after seven games. Then, the following week’s result opened the eyes of the entire division as Yeovil Town came to Rodney Parade and dismantled County 6-0. Despite this shock, County again responded well by winning 1-0 away to Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park.
County were steadily keeping themselves near the top of the table with the help of new striker, Jamille Matt settling in to the team and starting to score goals after a slow start.
On 27 November, County beat Northampton Town 3-1 at Rodney Parade in an assured performance which put them in 4th place in the table. Were county fans beginning to believe that this could be the season that they could finally mount a promotion challenge?
With cup games also coming into the equation for County, they then lost the next three leagues games away to Swindon Town and Lincoln City and went down 4-1 at home to play-off rivals Forest Green Rovers. This put them down into 11th place after only being 4th a month before.
The poor league form continued as County could not buy a win in League Two but this was hugely contrasted in the FA Cup as they defeated Leicester City in the 3rd round to set up a tie away at Middlesbrough at the end of January. League form continued to stutter around this time with County perhaps having one eye on the cup run. Following a last gasp draw on Teesside, the Exiles blew Boro away in the replay which rewarded them with a tie at home to Premier League champions, Manchester City. City eased to a 4-1 win at Rodney Parade but County gave a fantastic account of themselves and caught the eye of the footballing nation in the FA Cup once again.
Focus was now back on the league and they thrashed Notts County 4-1 at Meadow Lane on 19 February to give the club a huge confidence boost following a five month wait for an away league win. County’s home form also began to improve with wins against Mansfield Town, Carlisle United and Cheltenham Town all at Rodney Parade. However, the league position barely seemed to change with County flirting in the mid table places.
In amidst to all the excitement came a devastating blow as defender, Fraser Franks was cruelly forced to retire due to a heart condition at the age of 28. Franks had had a very good season at the back for County as a successful career had been sadly cut short.
The defeat to away to Northampton Town on 12 March would be the last of the season. A win away at Yeovil Town on 30 March gave County fans genuine belief that there could be a late play off push. Then, back-to-back 0-0 draws at home against fellow play-offs pushers Tranmere Rovers and Swindon Town greatly dented their chances.
The following week saw County thump Cambridge United 3-0 at Abbey Stadium which sparked another late belief. County then ran out 3-1 winners at home to 2nd-placed Bury which meant the destiny of the play-offs was in their own hands. A 0-0 draw away to struggling Macclesfield Town on Easter Monday appeared to a set back but then back-to-back home wins against champions, Lincoln City and mid-table Oldham Athletic meant a win away to Morecambe on the final day would seal County’s play-off spot.
Morecambe, a team County had become unstuck against on so many occasions in the recent past with 40-year-old winger, Kevin Ellison being the architect in many of those games, made hard work of the afternoon. Former Newport graduate, Aaron Collins opened the scoring for the Shrimps but a late equaliser from Jamille Matt gave County every chance of getting to the play-offs. After having some luck from other results and waiting to hear those results after the full time whistle, County had secured their play off spot.
County had little time to prepare for their first play-off leg at home to Mansfield Town which was played only five days later. The game finished 1-1 following a late Padraig Amond penalty rebound as County looked nervy. The trip to Field Mill was only three days after that on the Sunday which County dominated but could not find the net as the tie went all the way to penalties. County coolly converted all five of their spot kicks with County goalkeeper, Joe Day saving one of Mansfield’s to ultimately send County to Wembley.
Now, a fourth Wembley trip in seven years beckons for the South Wales club. Can they round of their thrilling season with promotion? Let us know by commenting below or tweeting us @Alloutfootball using the hashtag #AOF!’