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16 August 2013

A look ahead to tomorrow's game

Many Bristol Rovers fans have been tracking the fortunes of Newport County over recent seasons as they have made their progress through the non-League pyramid. It’s a game that will be a real favourite with many Gasheads.

County had a spectacular start to their first League campaign in 25 years with a 4-1 victory over Accrington and followed it up with a Capital One Cup victory at Brighton.

It was that game at Brighton that saw the Exiles first set-back of the season, ex-Gas Player Byron Anthony suffered a double ankle fracture which will keep him out for the remainder of the year. Byron remains a popular figure amongst Gasheads after his years of faithful service to the club. 

Last weekend, whilst Rovers were picking up their first point after a 0-0 draw with Scunthorpe, County went down 3-1 at Sixfields to Northampton. Manager Justin Edinburgh was proud of his team's display having dominated for long periods and had 17 shots on goal compared with the Cobblers' eight. 

He commented, "I've got no problem with the performance, I'm proud of the players. I think the score line was very harsh on us. Anyone who was here today will know we gave a very good account of ourselves and the score doesn't reflect the game really.

"To come to place like Sixfields and for long periods of time put the home team on the back foot and make them play on the counter attack is a good performance.  We're disappointed probably for a five minute spell in the first half we lost our way a bit but other than that I thought we gave a fantastic account of ourselves." 

County’s history reached a zenith when Len Ashurst was appointed manager in 1978 and he led the club to a promotion and Welsh Cup double two years later. It was followed by a memorable run to the Quarter-Final of the European Cup-Winners' Cup where they suffered an unlucky 3-2 aggregate defeat to East Germany's Carl Zeiss Jena.   

Under Ashurst's successor Colin Addison, in his second spell in charge, County came close to promotion in 1982-83. However, a multi-talented team boasting the striking skills of John Aldridge and Tommy Tynan along with home-grown Welsh internationals Nigel Vaughan and Steve Lowndes soon broke up.

In 1987 County were relegated back to the Fourth Division and the following year they were the victim of automatic relegation to the Conference. 

American Jerry Sherman took over but failed to live up to his promises of funding and, when they were locked out of Somerton Park for failing to meet payments to the council, County were expelled by the Conference in February 1989 and their playing record was expunged.

Rovers and County have a long history dating back to the inception of Division 3 in 1920. Rovers won the first game 3-2 at Eastville on 1 September 1920 with goals by Joe Norton, Steve Sims and Ellis Compton for Rovers and an Andrew Walker penalty and Arthur Wolstenholme for County. Eight days later goals by George Chance and Sid Leigh gave the away team a 2-0 victory.

The following season County gained revenge with a 4-3 win at Eastville on 21 January 1922. Harry Dobson (2), Charlie Brittain and John Lythgoe scored for the Welsh team with James Liddell, David Steele and Joe Walter netting for Rovers.

The highest aggregate score came on 16 March 1936 as George McNestry, Stan Prout and a Bert Taylor hat-trick for Rovers overcame goals by Billy Burgess, Fred Calarke and Henry Perks to give a 5-3 home win.

The last season the teams met was 1986-87, they tied 2-2 at Twerton Park on 14 December 1986. Probably the most important result was Rovers’ 1-0 victory at Somerton Park on 9 May 1987, where a Phil Purnell strike secured all three points and Third Division survival for Rovers. 

The history is remarkably even with 60 games played, 22 victories to County, 21 to Rovers and 17 drawn. In Newport Rovers have secured just 4 victories from 30 games played with 16 wins to County.

County now play their games at Rodney Parade the home of the town’s two Rugby teams. There are concerns about future pitch problems after major improvements could not be completed. Work to improve drainage under the pitch took place over the close season but the hot weather left one half too dry to finish the work.

The turf was in immaculate condition for County's long-awaited return to the Football League but had started to cut up by the final whistle of the 4-1 win over Accrington Stanley.

Someone with an interest in both clubs, Tony Pulis, has warned that too much should not be expected of his hometown club Newport this season. The former Stoke boss played for the Ambers between 1984 and 1986, is a big fan of manager Justin Edinburgh, but believes this campaign must be one of consolidation. 

“It’s been a fantastic start, but I think people have got to be a little bit careful and not get carried away. I think they’ll have a good season and I think a good season for them is if they can finish mid-table. 

“There’s time to build maybe next year, but this year just put the foundations down and make sure they stay up and they are nice and solid now because they’re well set up.”

Rovers will be hoping that they can collect their first maximum haul of the season as more players recover from injury. They should certainly have a vociferous following for this crucial early season fixture.

Written by Gerry Prewett.

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