A trip across the River Severn was in store for the twentieth edition of Day At The Football, to see Newport County welcome Tranmere Rovers in a battle between two teams with their sights on promotion out of League Two.
Tranmere entered the day in 5th spot, just 4 points away from a precious automatic promotion place, thanks to an impressive winning streak that was only recently halted away to Oldham midweek. It’s been an outstanding campaign for Micky Mellon and his squad, who only a year ago were fighting to escape the National League. How far they’ve come in such a short time.
Newport, despite starting the day 6 points behind in the playoff race (but with 2 games in hand), are still very much in contention, and winners of their previous two games. The Exiles made headlines this season thanks to their historic FA Cup run, including memorable defeats over Leicester and Middlesbrough, before finally bowing out to Manchester City.
Naturally for a Tranmere game my friend Matt was accompanying me, and he had made the journey south from Birkenhead early Saturday morning. It’s a shame I haven’t managed a trip to Prenton Park this season but joining the SWA for my third Rovers away game makes up for that a little I suppose.
We caught the train to Wales before midday and arrived into Newport with the sun shining, a perfect day beside the River Usk. Matt had already scoped out our pre-match plans with a visit to Tiny Rebel, Newport’s premier watering hole. The award-winning brewery in the centre of town has every kind of beer imaginable, with knowledgeable staff in a relaxed environment. I enjoyed a pint of Clwb Tropicana (a refreshing 5.5% tropical IPA) along with their ‘OG’ burger, whilst Matt feasted on the most enormous plate of dirty fries imaginable, complete with onion bhajis scattered on top, plus six vegan seitan wings coated in the hottest hot sauce I’ve ever had.
With considerable effort we got to our feet and began walking off the beer and food. The walk from the city centre to Newport County’s stadium was short and pleasant, and we arrived with an hour to go before kickoff, enough time for one more drink in the away supporter’s bar.
This was my first visit to Rodney Parade, home to Newport County since the 2012/13 season. They share the stadium with their rugby housemates, the formerly named Newport Gwent Dragons (although now just known as Dragons apparently). The Welsh Rugby Union actually own the rights to the ground and the capacity for football matches is reduced to a cosy 7,850. You can tell that the stadium wasn’t designed specifically for the beautiful game, as there are large expanses of open turf surrounding the edges of the football pitch in the centre. It’s a definitely a quirky look but adds to the overall charm of the ground.
Matt, myself and the 670 travelling SWA were housed between the relatively modern Bisley Stand and a temporary south stand behind the goal. We were sat a handful of rows back from the corner flag and our sight-line was decent overall, although there was some slight obstruction at the other end of the pitch if you wanted to see the corner flag on our side.
League Two player of the season James Norwood led the Tranmere attack and was desperate to net his 30th goal of the campaign, but both he and the attackers supporting him struggled to really impose themselves against a stubborn Newport defence.
Perhaps it was the discipline of the home side or the choppy playing surface, but Tranmere never found their rhythm and weren’t able to establish their expansive passing game. The visitor’s best opportunity of the first half came from an early corner but centre back Mark Ellis could only direct his powerful header off the crossbar. Newport also struggled against the Rovers’ resolute defence and never seriously troubled Tranmere goalkeeper Scott Davies.
It was more of the same in the second half as both teams simply cancelled each other out. The referee was only too happy to disrupt the flow of the game which added to the fan’s frustrations. Tranmere substitute Chris Dagnall had a glorious chance with half an hour left in the game, when a corner escaped Newport goalie Joe Day (no relation) and fell at Dagnall’s feet, but he could only direct a tame effort onto the post and wide.
In the final minute Newport thought they had won it, when a free kick was bundled into the net, but to our relief the linesman flagged for offside. That was all there was to it, and the final whistle blew soon after. It was one of the poorest 0-0’s I’ve witnessed in a long time but Tranmere can console themselves with another clean sheet and another point towards securing their place in the playoffs.
Despite the dour performance, the SWA were in good voice throughout, and very fond of the ‘Tequila’ song they’ve popularised in recent weeks. Hopefully I’ll be back amongst them soon enough, maybe even this season if they can put together a good run in the playoffs.