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Matches of Yesteryear - Newport v U's 14/1/17
Written by wessex_exile on Friday, 3rd Jan 2020 16:07

Ahead of tomorrow’s match at Stevenage, the Matches of Yesteryear random match selector has chosen one with some familiar faces in, one or two of whom we will see tomorrow, and one we probably won’t.

[b]Newport County v Colchester United

Saturday 14th January 2017

Sky Bet League 2 (Tier 4)

Attendance 2,397[/b]

As with Match #11 of the series, we return to Rodney Parade almost exactly three years ago for Match #35, and a game against Newport County. At the time Newport County were managed by journeyman manager Graham Westley, who began his somewhat controversial managerial career at the youthful age of just 28, steering Kingstonian away from relegation in his relatively short spell at the club before being dismissed. Since then, he has exclusively managed at non-league and lower league level, including three previous spells at Stevenage. In terms of relatively high-profile appointments, he did have spells in charge at both Preston North End and Peterborough whilst they were both League 1 sides, though neither ended particularly well. On the 15th December 2019, Westley rejoined Stevenage for a fourth spell as their manager – the club where he has probably enjoyed most of his success in management.

Being a relatively easy trip from where I’m based, me and my youngest took the train over for this match, and just three weeks before I moved from Warminster to Calne. I don’t have a programme for this match, just my ticket stub, though therein is another story. You may recall I pointed out in the previous Newport County blog (for our game in November 2018) that I’d managed to blag complimentary tickets for that game – well this appears to be another one for which a freebie was received, though in this case just my ticket – had to pay for Alfie’s ☹. I don’t recall the circumstances with absolute certainty, but I’m fairly certain this was one the ticket cabin staff were holding for the right looking sort to benefit from – they must have liked my face!

At the time of this match, and after losing eight on the bounce, the Exiles were already adrift at the foot of the table, six points from safety behind Notts County. In typical Westley style, the manager had decided sweeping changes were needed, and during January either signed or loaned-in 12 players, whilst releasing seven during the same period. Eight of his new signings either started or were on the bench on this day, five of them as debuts, so they could be forgiven for maybe not knowing too much about each other. The U’s were riding high at the time, on an unbeaten run of eight games stretching back to mid-November, winning seven of them. This run had propelled the U’s from the relegation zone to sixth place, and it was probably no coincidence that this turnaround in form had coincided with the recall of Big George Elokobi from his loan at Braintree. Incidentally, for those that might be wondering, Frank Nouble was yet to arrive at Rodney Parade – he was to be signed at the end of the season.

The U’s lined up at Rodney Parade:

1….Sam Walker

6….Frankie Kent

18..Tom Eastman

15..George Elokobi

2….Richard Brindley

11..Brennan Dickenson

24..Craig Slater (Tarique Fosu-Henry 88’)

4….Tom Lapslie

22..Owen Garvan

28..Kurtis Guthrie (Denny Johnstone 78’)

9….Chris Porter (captain)

This was my first visit to Rodney Parade (owned by the Welsh Rugby Union), and whilst I had an inkling what to expect, given the pitch was used for not only football, but rugby as well (both the Dragons regional rugby union side, and Newport RFC rugby union club played there), nothing quite prepared me for the quagmire that day. Admittedly, mid-January is never a good time for sports pitches, but this was frankly shocking, and it didn’t bode well for the free-flowing passing game the U’s fans had been enjoying in recent months. Our current form clearly a contributing factor, an impressive 312 had made the long trip from Essex for this game, including three coachloads – so many in fact that the paltry block of seats allocated weren’t sufficient to accommodate us all comfortably. With our more vociferous S1 choir and drummer wanting to stand, not enough seats in the first place, and tempers fraying between those wanting to stand and those wanting to sit, the stewards had no choice but to open the terraced area at the east end of the south stand. Normally I’d have joined those on the terrace quite happily, but with Alfie accompanying me it was far better to stay in the seats for this one.

As for the match, with Prosser injured Chris Porter was captain for the day, and the U’s fielded a strong line-up (injuries permitting). Right from the outset, it was clear that the dreadful pitch was going to be the consummate leveler between play-off and relegation zone teams. The bounce was so unpredictable that the U’s more often than not had to resort to a more aerial approach to our game. Given they played on it every other week, this wasn’t a problem for Newport – in fact it was clear that it was their usual modus operandi (not unexpected from any side managed by Graham Westley). Newport also had a considerable physical aspect to their game (again, not unexpected from any side managed by Graham Westley), but it was pleasing to see the U’s stand-up to that sort of nonsense and give as good as they got.

Early on, Dickenson was getting a reasonable amount of joy down the left wing, despite that being the worst part of the pitch, giving David Pipe (no slouch when it comes to ‘ahem’ physicality) a torrid time. Brennan went close after just a few minutes, only just failing to get on the end of an excellent cross from Garvan. As we struggled to cope with the conditions adequately, Newport slowly grew into the game – not surprisingly with much of that threat also coming down the worst side of the pitch that they’d be most familiar with. However, we were still a threat, and with about 15 minutes gone, Porter raced through into the area from an excellent Guthrie pass, only to tumble over under a hefty challenge – I wasn’t convinced, sadly neither was referee Michael Salisbury, who waved play-on. Unfortunately, not long after Newport took the lead, as we failed to deal adequately with a Nelson long-throw, allowing Sheehan to drill low into the far corner past Walker – who I honestly thought should have done better from the view I had of it at the time.

However, the U’s weren’t daunted, continued to press the home side, and on 35 minutes received their reward after Guthrie intelligently nodded the ball into the box, raced through to pick up his own pass, and was unceremoniously blocked off in the box. Porter slotted home the resultant penalty, though not the most convincing of spot-kicks by my reckoning. Had the goalkeeper gone the right way, it would have been an easy save, but they all count when they hit the back of the net. From then to half-time the match became more and more fractious, ironically with the home crowd becoming increasingly incensed that the U’s were perfectly happy to mix up if that’s how the Exiles wanted to play it.

The second half mostly became a war of attrition, with both teams having spells in control, but neither side managing to break the deadlock. Just after the hour, Williams fired in a low shot that Walker saved comfortably, and Walker went one better a few minutes later, brilliantly tipping over a shot from newly arrived substitute Owen-Evans. Again Walker came to the rescue with 15 minutes to go, easily saving Reid’s header from an excellent Butler cross, but that was pretty much the last serious effort on goal for Newport. With Denny Johnstone replacing Kurtis Guthrie on 78 minutes, the U’s found another gear, and spent the remainder of the game pegging Newport back in their own half, and very nearly claiming the victory. Probably our best chance fell to Johnstone, after Porter had excellently closed down a clearance, but his snap-shot was dragged agonisingly wide, and that’s how the match finished.

[b]Newport County 1 (Josh Sheehan 23’) Colchester United 1 (Chris Porter 35’p)[/b]

On balance, at the time I thought that wasn’t a bad point, even if we were playing the team at the bottom of the league. I’m not sure if I’ve mentioned it already, but the pitch was atrocious, so to escape with a point and our unbeaten run continued felt okay to me on the journey home. Of course, with the benefit of hindsight it proved to be a bit of a turning point in our season, and from hereon in our form was patchy, seeing the U’s slip out of the play-off zone for the last time at the end of February.

As for Newport and Westley, they parted company a month and a half later, with Newport County an even further 11 points adrift at the foot of the table. To say it was an acrimonious parting of the ways was an understatement – club secretary Graham Bean had already resigned in December, stating Westley was “[i]…an impossible man to work with...he needs to learn some manners and start treating people with some respect[/i]”. When the board had finally had enough of Westley’s controversial approach to man-management, it transpired they had actually consulted with not only the players but the supporters as well in advance of making their decision. Newport-born Mike Flynn, one of the 12 signed in January by Westley, was appointed caretaker manager, and miraculously managed to steer the Exiles clear of relegation, winning seven of the final 12 matches of the season. The dreadful Rodney Parade pitch was removed in its entirety in the close season, and they now play on a hybrid pitch made of both natural grass and artificial fibres, which can stand up much better to the relentless battering it receives from three different teams.

For the U’s, this was one of the better games for Guthrie, who was to miss out the final few months of the season through an ankle injury sustained in March. He made a brief return in September of the following season, but after some increasingly frustrated outbursts through social media (and, I’d personally say, not helped by having a far bigger opinion of his ability than was matched in reality), Guthrie’s contract was terminated by mutual consent in March 2018. This followed an on-field altercation with Szmodics about who was going to take a penalty against Yeovil. Guthrie was snapped up by tomorrow’s opponents Stevenage, and of course he had a comedy-villain pivotal role in our match their last season. However, t’internet rumours suggest he won’t be there tomorrow, even if Graham Westley will be, as it is reported he’s gone to Brizzle Rovers – we shall see.

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