After their 3-0 win away at Oldham, Rovers face a 2 leg play-off semi-final against The Exiles for the right to play at Wembley for the final League 1 promotion place. Could they do it? The first leg will be at Rodney Parade on Tuesday 18th May (kick off 20.15) and the second leg at The innocent New Lawn on Sunday 23rd May (kick off 18.30).
The reason that FGR are playing at home in the second leg (unusually) is connected with issues about the Rodney Parade ground. Newport’s home ground is the 2nd oldest sports venue in the EFL (after Deepdale) but it has been plagued with pitch problems this season. The ground is shared with 2 rugby union sides, Dragons and Newport RFC. The pitch this season deteriorated to the point where the Newport manager called it ‘the worst ever’. Newport got permission from the league this season to play 2 of their home games at the Cardiff City Stadium due to the poor pitch condition (even the Dragons rugby team played 3 home games elsewhere!). The surface was due to be overhauled last summer but this was delayed due to the pandemic.
Whether FGR fans can attend the 2nd leg in person has now been decided – we can!. The Welsh government has said that first leg in Newport is now open to restricted numbers of home spectators as a test event. This was crucial because if restrictions in Wales had meant that the first leg couldn’t be played in front of fans then EFL rules would have meant that the second leg couldn’t either.
The pitch at Rodney Parade has caused issues this season.
Opponents Newport finished the season on 73 points (the same number of points as both Rovers & Tranmere but with a better goal difference). Morecambe and Tranmere (who have just sacked their manager!) will contest the other play-off semi-final.
Rovers might take some confidence from the 2 matches played between the teams during the regular season. The game at TiNL on 1st December finished 1-1. An Abrahams penalty on 45 minutes was cancelled out by a Jamille Matt strike on 77 minutes. Back at Rodney Parade on the 21st February, a Josh Davison goal in the 43rd minute and a Jamille Matt penalty in the 63rd minute saw Rovers win 2-0.
Newport’s season started at a blistering pace. They had 11 victories, 3 draws and 2 defeats as they moved into December top of the league. But in their next 15 matches going into March, their form dipped, with only 2 wins in that time, a period which saw them drop quickly down the table. Since then they have steadied the ship, with a run of 7 wins, 4 draws and 4 defeats in their final 15 games. Rovers can expect a mean defence when they face Newport – only a handful of teams can better their defensive record of only conceding 42 goals in the regular season. 29 points on the road and 44 points from their home games suggest Newport are more comfortable at home. But they have scored 30 away goals compared with only 27 goals at home during the season. We can expect 2 tight encounters when Rovers face them.
Newport’s main goal threats this season have come from Matthew Dolan, Scott Twine, Lewis Collins and their 33 year-old veteran Padraig Amond. Each scored 6 goals during the regular season. Tristan Abrahams and Joss Labadie have contributed 4 goals apiece. Team captain Labadie suffered a bad injury in their game at Southend recently but has vowed to be fit to face FGR. Abrahams has been out on loan at Leyton Orient and won’t be available for the Exiles. We can perhaps expect Amond and Collins to lead the line, as they have in recent games. Lewis, of course, is brother of our own Aaron – Lewis, who has just turned 20, is the younger sibling – Aaron is 23.
Lewis Collins of Newport will go up against his older brother in the 2 leg play-off semi-final.
A familiar face to look for is Welshman, Liam Shephard, who moved to Newport on a 1-year contract at the start of this season. Liam played for Rovers from 2018 to 2020, making 58 appearances and notching up 6 goals. He was a popular and skilful right wing-back.
Liam Shepherd in his Rovers days.
Newport have become known for FA Cup runs in recent years (beating Leicester, Middlesborough and Leeds and also troubling – but eventually losing to – Tottenham and Manchester City). This season the Exiles won their 1st and 2nd round ties against Leyton Orient and Salford before succumbing in the 3rd round against Brighton and Hove Albion on penalties after a 1-1 draw.
33 year old Padraig Amond – dubbed ‘the daddy of Irish goalscorers’.
Newport are one of only 3 EFL clubs that are majority owned by their fans (Exeter City and AFC Wimbledon are the others). The club finished bottom of the 4th tier in 1988 which meant they were relegated to the Conference, ending a 60 year stay in the EFL. The following year they went out of business and were expelled from the Conference for failing to fulfill their fixtures.
A group of supporters then reformed the club and they were admitted into the Hellenic League (4 divisions below the EFL). It was at this time that they became known as The Exiles as they were unable to play at their Newport home and had to play their fixtures in Moreton in the Marsh, Gloucestershire during the 1989/90 season. It was a long haul for the club but they finally made their way back into the EFL at the start of the 2013/14 season. The club crest reflects the fact that they were formed in 1912 and re-born in 1989.
If you wondered where the ‘County’ came from, they were originally known as The Newport & Monmouth County Association Football Club, which got shortened.