ith the new season just days away, Newport City Radio looks into how last season's play-off finalists can go a step further in the 2019/20 campaign...
- They must replace Joe Day
21 clean sheets in all competitions last season provided County with the perfect platform on which they could build arguably their best campaign in recent memory. But with Joe Day's departure to Cardiff, and as tough as it will be to achieve, promotion will demand that his replacement will be equally as accomplished between the sticks.
Tom King joins County on a free transfer knowing that he must hit the ground running. The 24 year-old has league experience with Stevenage and AFC Wimbledon and with it, promise of a good campaign. They key thing to look out for will be the one-on-one situations and saves from point-blank range; if King can produce half of those of his predecessor, he will quickly become an important part of County's season.
And it must be said, his pre-season form suggests that has settled quickly and he is likely to be first-choice stopper ahead of the fit-again Nick Townsend come Saturday afternoon.
- The midfield MUST score more goals
When we take Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond out of the equation, County's top scorers for the 18/19 season were Antoine Semenyo - who only spent half the season at Rodney Parade - with six goals and then Dan Butler and Mickey Demetriou, with four goals apiece. Even Fraser Franks, who was sadly forced into retirement, chipped in with three goals prior. The defensive unit certainly went above and beyond their expectations, and that is admirable, but now the midfield have to get involved.
With Josh Sheehan's upturn in form towards the end of last season, maturing into a cultured central midfielder and Dolan and Labadie's respective new contracts signed, it is not too much to ask for that the additional creativity be accompanied by more goals. And with Corey Whitely impressing during pre-season with his direct attacking style, it does seem as if there's ample depth in the squad to make this a reality.
- The gaffer must stick to what's got the club from last-day salvation to the Wembley play-off final
In the wake of a sickening play-off final defeat at Wembley, it would be easy for Mike Flynn to alter the system and/or style of play for the upcoming campaign. But given that, even with a slump in form over Christmas, the side ended up 90 minutes from League One, why try and fix what essentially isn't broken? The spine of last season's successful side - Day and Butler notwithstanding - has been kept so why not go again as they did?
Three at the back, wide players capable of defending, a creative central midfield duo either side of a solid defensive midfield anchor man and two strikers. This allows for playing "proper football" but remaining with two forwards - in County's case, a "little and large" pairing - gives the option, if necessary to fire an out ball with a higher degree of accuracy and success.
- The fanbase must keep the faith and passion...but numbers must swell
On numerous occasions last term, Mike Flynn and his players made reference to the "12th man" they had behind them; the Rodney Parade faithful. Visiting teams are all aware of the noise the Amber Army create during home matches; the tight-knit stadium makes for an oppressively daunting atmosphere for those not ready for it. While numbers were constant for the 18/19 campaign, this season must attract more.
Cup runs encouraging fans to come out on a one-off basis is fine, but this has to begin to develop a new generation of passionate supporter. If nothing else, the financial benefit to the club of having more supporters is obvious and with a deal to stay at Rodney Parade beyond their current deal still somewhat up in the air, could be vital when it comes to having somewhere to play beyond 2023.
- Perhaps most improtantly (and obviously), the squad must remain injury-free all season
During press conferences last season, it was almost a weekly occurrence that Mike Flynn would report that one of his key players would be missing due to one injury or another. This meant that, too often, he would have to name a certain XI because he simply had no other options available to him.
Remember when he had to resort to registering himself as a player and naming himself as a sub at Crawley?
Squad depth was not - and still isn't something County are blessed with in abundance and while talent can get you far, back-up options are vital if the club can realistically challenge for the upper positions in the league table. Ade Azeez has already been lost for six months due to an achilles tendon injury and who would replace, Jamma, Podge and Labadie if they all dropped with injuries at the same time?
A lot of work with need to be done on fitness, strength and conditioning etc. if County are going to remain in the race for promotion come the end of April. The signings have been made; they just now need to be kept fit.