As part of the pre-match build up to Saturday’s League Two play-off final, we are going to take a closer look at the opposition.
Newport County sneaked into the play-offs on the final day of the season after a very impressive run of form towards the end of the 2018-19 regular season. A 10-match unbeaten streak, while playing catch up on other teams, took them from mid-table obscurity to play-off contenders and a team to be wary of given their impressive form.
They extended that impressive run with two draws and ultimately penalty shoot-out victory over Mansfield Town in the semi-final to take their place at the home of English football on Saturday afternoon.
But to say that they sneaked in at the last minute doesn’t really tell the full story.
Mike Flynn’s side have shown real quality throughout the season, so let’s take a closer look.
County enjoyed a strong start to the season, brushing off the disappointment of a 3-0 defeat on the opening day to Mansfield to take themselves on a nice six-match run without league defeat.
Indeed, they were the first away side to take maximum points from Prenton Park this season when they picked up a 1-0 win in late September thanks to an early Fraser Franks goal.
They spent the majority of the first half of the season in and around the top seven positions in the division, with a well drilled team who were difficult to beat.
They then went on to make a few headlines in the FA Cup. BBC cameras saw them giant-kill Premier League outfit Leicester City at Rodney Parade in the Third Round, before they beat Championship side Middlesbrough following a replay.
That Boro victory set up a glamour tie at home against Manchester City in Round Five, and unlike a lot of teams, they managed to get a goal against Pep Guardiola’s side in a very respectable 4-1 loss.
Success in the FA Cup did a number of things to Newport. Firstly, it showed their quality and that they could mix it against higher league opposition. Secondly, it affected their league results in the run up to some of the cup fixtures. Maybe unsurprisingly, they suffered poor results in and around those big cup clashes. And thirdly, it meant they were behind the schedules of other clubs in the division due to fixture postponements, and points two and three meant they dropped into that mid-table obscurity I alluded to previously.
Going back to their current form, is it a surprise that they’re on such a run?
It’s mightily impressive. To have continued to pick up good results knowing that they had to in order to reach the play-offs, and to do so when the games are coming thick and fast is full credit to Mike Flynn, his staff and the players at that club.
Having been on a similar run ourselves from February, we know exactly how difficult it is to sustain that effort and challenge to keep picking up points match after match, but Newport have managed it.
Personally speaking, I was certainly expecting a slip up or two along the way, but they’ve continued to pick up results game in, game out. Their current run stretches to 12 matches. Unlucky 13???
What about the players Rovers will come up against on Saturday?
In goal, Joe Day is a good solid goalkeeper for this level. He has good experience, commands his area well and is a good shot-stopper, so he’ll be difficult to beat for the Tranmere front men.
Defensively, they are big, strong and well organised. Young Regan Poole is on loan from Manchester United and offers great quality, and he has good experience alongside him which compliments things nicely. One of those is Mickey Demetriou who Micky Mellon will know well from their time together at Shrewsbury.
They possess plenty of experience in the middle of the park. Former Tranmere man Joss Labadie will provide the steel while the likes of Robbie Willmott and Josh Sheehan will offer a more creative and attacking option to the side.
And up front, they have one of the best lower league strikers in the business in the shape of Padraig Amond. He has scored goals everywhere he’s been and will certainly cause the Rovers rearguard more than a problem or two leading the line for County at Wembley.
Newport have enough quality to cause Tranmere problems. They have a great deal of momentum behind them given their impressive unbeaten run. But all good things must come to an end at some point, right?