Newport County have brought their end of season form into the new campaign, going unbeaten in their opening two league matches, taking their unbeaten run in League Two to 12 games. They face a Plymouth Argyle side brimming with confidence having won both of their opening league fixtures for the first time since 1978 without conceding a goal in the process.
In a strange turn of events, manager Michael Flynn has confirmed that there will be no major coup of former Manchester City former Wilfried Bony. The Ivorian had been training with the club to maintain fitness following his release from Championship side Swansea last season.
With no fresh injury concerns, Newport look set to field the same side that drew 0-0 with Cambridge last Saturday; Michael Flynn has deployed a diamond formation in both of their league matches, so it looks likely to remain that way. Having said that, they may opt to go man-for-man and utilise the same 3-5-2 formation that led them to the play-offs last season, the same one used in their mid-week cup tie against Gillingham.
County made nine changes for that game, which saw only Padraig Amond and Matt Dolan keep their places. Those who were rested are likely to reclaim their places.
Predicted Line Up (4-3-1-2)
McNamara, Howkins, Demetriou, Haynes
Labadie, Sheehan, Dolan
Style of Play
Predominantly playing in a 3-5-2 formation last season, Michael Flynn’s side changed tack to a diamond formation this season, successfully using it to hold promotion rivals Mansfield Town to a draw on the opening day. The absence of wingers in this formation allows County to try and dominate the midfield, with and without the ball. They attempt to outnumber their opposition to try and create chances for their two forwards and advanced midfielder.
Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt lead the line for County and formed one of League Two’s deadliest forward pairings last season, recording a combined 44 goals and assists (28G, 14A) between them. Individually, this accounted for almost half of the 59 league goals Newport scored last season. Matt in particular is impressive, possessing both a burst of pace and excellent abilities as a target man. Many of his goals last season came from set pieces which will prove to be dangerous against an Argyle defence that has yet to concede a goal this season.
With plenty of pace, attacking midfielder Robbie Willmott could prove to be vital against Argyle’s slower defensive three. The 28-year-old made 31 appearances last season, predominantly from right wing-back, chipping in with three goals and six assists. The Englishman utilises his pace, hitting opponents on the counter attack, often looking to go out wide if possible before firing the ball into the box for the likes of Matt and Amond.
Joss Labadie is often also tasked with a similar job as the two often interchange depending on County’s opponents. The former Torquay United man was limited to just 14 league appearances due to injury, but when fit Labadie’s physicality in the Newport engine room alongside Alan Sheehan and Matt Dolan is a massive plus.
Last season’s standout performer was, without a doubt, forward Padraig Amond. The 31-year-old was one of very few Football League players to register double digits for both goals and assists with 24 in total (14G, 10A). Whilst the Englishman isn’t particularly quick, he’s good in the air, puts himself in goal-scoring positions and has excellent finishing skills for this level.
His partnership with fellow forward Jamille Matt could prove vital as County go in search of another play-off challenge. The two compliment each other incredibly well, evidenced by their combined 44 goals and assists last season. Their telepathy gives Newport a chance of winning any game, no matter the level of performance of their teammates.
Yet, to mount another push, other players will certainly have to support then and relieve some of the attacking burden.
With four defenders as well as three regular central midfielders in front of them, County look to control the middle of the park. However, this leaves them susceptible out wide.
Their opening day fixture against Mansfield was a perfect example of this. The Stag’s equalising goal and penalty came from build-up out wide. If Argyle can push Riley and McFadzean into wide, advanced positions, they’ll be able to stretch County’s midfield and create spaces.
Despite making the play-offs last season, Newport were lucky that their leaky defensive record didn’t cost them. Their tally of 59 goals conceded was more than 17th placed Grimsby (56) and 20th placed Port Vale (55). Most of these goals came in flurries, with County posting a very impressive 17 clean sheets, yet suffering a brace of 4-1 defeats against Forest Green and Crawley as well as a 6-0 defeat against Yeovil.
After coming out of the starting blocks in more than confident fashion, Argyle will surely be looking for another three points against Newport on Saturday, but their opposition are no pushovers having gone 12 league matches without defeat, stretching back to the tail end of last season.
It still feels as though Ryan Lowe’s side have a few extra gears in them. Joel Grant’s potential injury is an obvious blow for the Pilgrims, but Dom Telford’s goal against Leyton Orient on Tuesday will give fans faith that he’ll be a more than adequate replacement.
With Newport resting most of their players against Gillingham in midweek, they should be the fresher of the two sides and with the Matt/Amond combination up front it’s difficult not to see them causing the slower Argyle defence problems. With that being said I’m going for 2-1 Argyle.