May 6 2017, the best afternoon of my life, Newport County after being eleven points adrift of safety with twelve games to go were dead and buried but got back to within safety until Hartlepool scored went 2-1 up against Doncaster and we were drawing 1-1 with Notts County, we were minutes from relegation to the National League until Mark O’Brien stepped up and became a County hero. But after staying up on the final day are there better days on the horizon?
The last two seasons for Newport have been shocking two consecutive 22nd place finishes and two very uninspiring campaigns littered with errors. 2015/16 was the worst start to a season I have ever seen one win in ten league games but there was never any fear of relegation after a ten game unbeaten run while under the management of John Sheridan. But under Warren Feeney the season ended worse than it started, no wins in the final eleven games and eight of those games being defeats that should of been the sign to shake hands and walk away. But hindsight is a wonderful thing and Feeney was given money to build his own team but this season started as badly as the last one and Feeney was sacked and replaced with the experienced Graham Westley who promised us the Earth and gave us some soil, made a bad team worse and his work left us looking on LateRooms for hotels in Guiseley and Eastleigh. Westley’s last game as manager was the 4-0 home defeat to Leyton Orient when we started with seven defenders and after that we had 26 points from 34 games, Notts County in 22nd were on 35 it was over. He ended up being so unpopular with fans that he is known by a few as the “egotistical maniac”. Feeney and Westley had many flaws which put us in a bad position Feeney did not know what tactics were and Westley was responsible for more balls going in the River Usk than the last five managers at Newport put together, the decisions were that dim-witted that Warren Feeney and Graham Westley could give Jim Carrey and Jeff Daniels a run for their money for Dumb and Dumber 3.
We now move on to the 9th of March. Local boy and then first team coach Michael Flynn is given the impossible job. Flynn got off to a dream start two wins at Crewe and Morecambe moved us seven points from safety with ten games remaining, then came the toughest three game run of any team in the relegation scrap this season; Blackpool at home, Luton at home and Portsmouth away, two losses and one draw meant we were still seven points from safety but we now had just seven games to go. But the belief was back as instead of it being 1-0 to the Arsenal it was 1-0 to the Newport, three straight 1-0 wins and the gap was one point with four games remaining, just eight games earlier we were eleven points adrift remember. Easter Monday brought us back down to Earth a 6-1 humbling against Plymouth Argyle left us praying that the worst team in the league (Leyton Orient) could beat Hartlepool, which they did. A 1-0 home win over Accrington followed and for the first time since November 19 Newport were out of the bottom two, two points clear with two games to go. A 2-1 defeat to Carlisle coupled with Hartlepool losing 1-0 to Cheltenham meant that either us or Hartlepool would go down on the last day. All we had to do was match Hartlepool’s result to complete the great escape, it was looking good we were 1-0 up at half-time and Hartlepool were 1-0 down. But as I mentioned in the introduction everything then went wrong and our 6-1 hammering at Plymouth looked destined to relegate us, until an 89th minute wonder strike left us in delirium and the Soccer Saturday pundits feeling like idiots for jumping around the studio six minutes earlier. Despite the referees best efforts (playing seven minutes of five added on) he blew up and we were safe, seven wins in twelve, picking up thirteen points on Hartlepool and Michael Flynn had achieved one of the greatest resurrections since Jesus resurrected Lazarus.
So the future, Michael Flynn is permanent manager, the squad which was on the form table 4th after those twelve games is mostly together and with some improvements the future looks bright, maybe I am biased but I cannot see another 22nd place finish next season, I am going to be very ambitious here we could flirt with the play-offs next season, people might say I am mad but we were a very tough team to beat, solid at the back except for Plymouth and discovered how to win games. Rodney Parade became a fortress and with the WRU now running the place and a Desso pitch being laid we should have the best pitch in the league and can play some good football with a city that wants an EFL club, we have been the joke of League 2 for the past two seasons but maybe for the next two seasons those teams should sit up and take notice. Newport were a sleeping dragon but now it is waking up.
By Damon Brimble