Back from the edge of darkness! Courtesy of what were the tremendously unlikely set of events that took place on May 3rd 2014, here we all are on the eve of a new season as a Football League club. As I poured through the fixtures the morning they were released back in June, not even the prospect of Tuesday night fixtures in Exeter and Plymouth could dampen my spirits. A fairy tale ending to what was a nightmare of a season has felt like a turning point for the whole club.
With the takeover bids declared dead in the water soon after that wonderful day at Plainmoor, Gareth Ainsworth was handed a reduced budget and a long list of out of contract players to contend with.
Grateful for the time granted to learn the lessons from last season, Ainsworth has fashioned a squad which emphasises on quality rather than quantity. The signings of Sido Jombati, Aaron Pierre, Peter Murphy and Paul Hayes have also added some much needed physical presence to a team that got bullied on many occasions last season in a combative league. Joe Jacobson has arrived with an excellent reputation at left back which will allow Sam Wood to add some much needed width on the left whilst a fit again Paris Cowan Hall can hopefully add some spark down the right. The recent loan additions of Danny Rowe and Nicky Walker have added numbers to a very thin squad which could be reliant on some astute usage of the loan windows as the season progresses. With that in mind, the roles of Cian O’Doherty and Dave Wates in a new medical set up for the club will also play a large part in the forthcoming season.
With re conditioned goal posts, courtesy of Gareth, Richard Dobson and Barry Richardson plus a coat of paint inside from a supporters working group, the training ground feels refreshed. Ainsworth is now only referred to as ‘Gaffer’ by the squad who were all decked out in suits before and after the Reading pre season game. Small changes they maybe, but it has brought about a business like atmosphere during pre season.
Of course, non of the above can be properly judged until we start to see an improvement in results and performances in the unforgiving world of League Two.
Another lesson that Gareth has learnt is not to make predictions on where the club will finish in the table. New chairman Andrew Howard has called for a season of consolidation whilst the club continues to sort itself out off the pitch and I think many fans would be satisfied with this.
Newport County took six points of Wycombe Wanderers last season and both games were an excellent example of teams bullying the smaller Chairboys. The chief protagonist (at least from the Adams Park fixture) David Pipe may well have departed The Exiles to join Forest Green but a tough physical workout is still on the cards at Rodney Parade. I’m a fan of Justin Edinburgh’s rise into management and he is also tactically astute and can count himself unlucky to not make the play offs last season, thwarted by a horrific run of postponements. Edinburgh has used his non league knowledge in bolstering his squad and the signing of Yan Klukowski looks the pick of the bunch who will look to impress in midfield. Whatever happens on the opening day, both teams will be able to benefit from this game being played on grass, instead of the freshly ploughed beach from last April.