Newport County vs Tranmere Rovers

0-0 Stalemate Over The Severn

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Bath City FC vs Woking FC

Promotion Hopefuls Settle For 1-1 Draw

The first genuinely warm day of 2019 saw me headed to Twerton Park once again, home of Bath City FC. I was there for my sixth home game of the season, to see the Romans take on second placed Woking in the Vanarama National League South.

Prior to kickoff City held a strong position in their bid for the playoffs and a positive result against Woking on Saturday, themselves chasing promotion, would have been exactly what Jerry Gill and his squad were aiming for. Confidence was high as the hosts began the day on a 10-game unbeaten run at home, as Twerton Park has become a fortress of sorts this year. Even league leaders Torquay United succumbed to Gill’s side, losing 3-2 to City in an unforgettable January fixture

With the weather so amazing, I left the house in just a t-shirt and light jacket and walked the short distance to Moorland Road to meet Caleb. Moorland Road is roughly ten minute’s walk away from Twerton Park and host to a number of great places to eat, all on a single street. Caleb and I stationed ourselves outside the Velo Lounge and enjoyed a beer in the sun, a perfect precursor to a day at the football. We grabbed food there as well, a Twisted Chicken Club Ciabatta which was absolutely perfect. I could have honestly spent the rest of the afternoon there soaking up the rays but we had a game to get to.

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Feeling rather full, we set off and arrived at the ground relatively early. We stopped into the club shop and enquired about the home shirt – my wallet was very thankful they didn’t have any mediums available. The club had warned fans they were expecting another high attendance and recommended arriving early to avoid congestion around the turnstiles, but we were early enough to avoid any of that. By kickoff the numbers around us had increased though, and 1,710 was recorded as the official attendance, the third largest home crowd of the season. It was a beautiful day and everybody was making the most of the sunshine.

The game itself was a scrappy affair and evenly contested. Bath matched their title-chasing opponents in every area but it was an uncharacteristic mistake that allowed the visitors to edge themselves ahead.

Ryan Clarke, so often a pillar of reliability in the Bath goal, scuffed a clearance right to a Woking player, and a simple ball across the box allowed Max Kretzschmar to tap in to give the Surrey side a 1-0 lead. Bath struggled to cope with the setback and the game became a niggly affair. The referee found himself a very busy man all of sudden.

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Woking captain Josh Casey was repeatedly involved in minor scuffles, and enjoyed some of the finest non-league shithousery in front of the home fans. Casey earned the wrath of the Bath faithful all afternoon and seemed to revel in the attention. The “curly haired fuck” as he was affectionately known was often in the referee’s ear for Woking fouls, and regularly found himself on his arse thanks to a robust Bath challenge – it was all very entertaining.

Bath had a great chance to equalise just before half time when midfielder Tom Smith had his point-blank header saved, but it was Woking who looked more likely to walk away with the three points after the break. Clarke, redeeming himself for his earlier error, made a couple of superb stops and was very grateful to see a Woking effort clang off his post and into his open arms. Caleb and I looked at each other in disbelief, as it seemed a certain goal, but we were thankful not to be 2-0 behind.

The home fans continued to urge on their team but the boys were struggling to create any clearcut opportunities. Most of Bath’s shots lacked power and drifted wide of the goal, and striker Freddie Hinds struggled to find space away from Woking’s towering centre backs Moussa Diarra and Ben Gerring.

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Relief came in the 72nd minute when winger Andy Watkins, a forgotten figure this season, collected a smart pass from James Morton and turned on the ball to get his shot away. From my angle it didn’t looked as if Watkins had connected properly but the ball squirmed under the Woking goalkeeper and hit the back of the net. It was 1-1 and Bath’s unbeaten run at home was still alive.

Watkins’ celebration in front of his fans was richly deserved, as he had worked tirelessly on the wing all afternoon, and was the only City forward who seemed to trouble the Woking defence. He sprinted to the fans in the front row and gave high-fives to all, before he arched his neck and looked to the sky. In that moment you could see the relief wash over him, in what has been a difficult campaign for the 34 year-old. Watkins has over 50 goals for the club, but he’ll no doubt have cherished this one.

The announcement came over the tannoy that the goalscorer had won man of the match but as good as Watkins was, personally I would have awarded it to Robbie Cundy, Bath’s young centre back. The 21 year-old is enjoying his first season at the club and every time I’ve seen him play he has stood out among his peers for his poise and reliability. Against Woking he won every header, made countless blocks, and seemed to be a step above everyone else on the pitch. Cundy is one to watch and could go places, but for now he must be one of Jerry Gill’s first names on the teamsheet, an essential piece on this team.

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Both sides pressed for a winner in the final minutes but ultimately had to settle for a point apiece. Woking are a supremely organised outfit and you can see how they’ve been so effective this year, although you feel Bath were the happier team at the final whistle, now unbeaten at home in 11 consecutive home games and with a 6 point cushion in the playoff race with just five games remaining.

Should Bath achieve their goal and secure a playoff position, there’s a strong chance they could meet Woking again.

I hope to be there if that’s the case.