Can Michael Flynn’s Newport County push on from FA Cup heroics?by Gabriel Sutton / 07 January 2019, 14:36Tweet
League Two Newport County captured many hearts with their 2-1 FA Cup Third Round victory over Leicester.
Gabriel Sutton looks at the job Michael Flynn has done at Rodney Parade – and what can be done to convert cup performances into league form.
Newport County’s performance against the Foxes was one of phenomenal spirit.
In the first half, we saw Mickey Demetriou’s unrelenting long throws that penned Leicester in, as well as the well-coordinated pressing which Jamille Matt led from the front.
The former Plymouth man linked up superbly with Padraig Amond and Antoine Semenyo, with the latter, on loan from Bristol City, showing not only pace but also the touch and close control to thrive on national TV, the night before his 19th birthday.
Robbie Willmott floated from the right well all game but he also showed the direct turn of speed to get to the byline and cross to the back-post, as Matt beat Wes Morgan in the air to head home.
In the second half, they unsurprisingly had to drop deeper but Scot Bennett and Matty Dolan – who notoriously ‘wears a magic hat’ – tidied up expertly in the defensive third while Fraser Franks won every header that came his way.
A slice of misfortune came when, seconds after Joe Day denied Kelechi Iheanacho, the long-serving stopper was unable to react again to Rachid Ghezzal’s smashed strike.
Many teams in that situation might have caved in but instead, Newport found extra energy from somewhere to press for a winner.
Of course, they needed the fortune of Marc Albrighton inexplicably handling in the box, but Padraig Amond showed remarkable poise to coolly slot past former Morecambe teammate Danny Ward at such a crucial stage.
Newport have embraced the true spirit of the FA Cup and fully deserve their place in the Fourth Round.
Underdog tag suits them
There is something unique about Newport County, which we have seen in their FA Cup performances against Leeds, Tottenham and now Leicester in the last two seasons.
On the big occasions, fans provide fervent backing and that is what brings the club to life.
That potential has always existed within Rodney Parade but it has perhaps taken a local man like Flynn, who fans can relate to, to be appointed as manager for the club to be re-connected and show those qualities.
Newport average League Two’s eighth lowest gates in 2018-19 and remain a little way behind their competitors in terms of infrastructure.
For that reason, they have at times found it difficult to attract players with notable technical quality.
Although FA Cup home games against Tottenham and Leicester have been very challenging, they are also more suited to the team’s – and the club’s - main skillsets.
Newport are all about feeding off the crowd to produce gutsy, high-intensity performances, which is what the FA Cup is made for.
When the Exiles play in League Two, especially away from Rodney Parade, the players do not have the same atmosphere to feed off, thus they become more reliant on passing ability which perhaps is not their strong suit.
Between now and the end of the season, Newport need to try as hard as possible to replicate cup conditions - and improve their away form.
Away form to be addressed
It seems almost churlish to look at Newport’s weaknesses just a day after they have enjoyed one of the greatest night’s in their current incarnation.
However, if the Exiles want to shorten the seven-point gap between themselves and the play-off places, it is vital that they improve their road return.
The Amber Army have lost six of their last seven league jaunts, conceding 16 goals in that sample and replying with eight.
The sequence includes October’s 1-1 draw at Bury, where they were second-best in terms of performance, having been out-shot 15-4.
Most concerningly, they have not taken a lead-taking away goal since Fraser Frank’s fifth-minute strike in September’s 1-0 victory at Tranmere.
While they did threaten for spells in road defeats like the 2-1 loss at Cheltenham and 3-2 at Lincoln, they have only done so in response to falling behind, which would suggest a defensive approach.
At home, a combination of the atmosphere and the awkward pitch has allowed them to out-fight teams en route to seven wins from a possible 12, but they do not have that tool in their armoury on the road, which is where they need to show more care in possession.
Some of the cup money should of course go towards off-field commitments, but a ball-playing midfielder who can dictate play in the Mark Byrne mould, along with perhaps a gifted attacking midfielder, would help them play with the quality required to aid their travel sickness.
Labadie and Crofts needed
Joss Labadie, an inspirational leader who presses with relentless ferocity, was a huge part of Newport’s FA Cup run last season, winning the admiration of Ian Wright among many others.
Since re-signing for the club in October though, Labadie has not been able to shake off his unfortunate anterior cruciate ligament injury– but there is no doubt he can make a huge impact when fit.
Andrew Crofts was added in the summer to offer similar qualities to Labadie, who had initially been released; however, he too has found it difficult to stay fit.
We saw against Leicester that Scot Bennett can offer intelligence in that holding midfield role and he makes some good interceptions – as a centre-back by trade however, Bennett perhaps does not quite provide the same level of aggression in the press as Labadie or Crofts.
For that reason, it will be vital to get one of the latter two back fit to bolster Flynn’s midfield options.
Overall, however, the progress Flynn’s side are making must be respected.
After the former Bradford midfielder kept them up in exceptional circumstances in 2016-17 – having only just retired from playing himself – Flynn has stabilized the Exiles in midtable and, thanks to these two excellent cup runs, put them back on the map.