Westleigh Park, Havant
Theoretically, it was the right team at the right team. Newport couldn’t have looked in more disarray if they’d all turned up paralysed from the waist down and having to drag themselves from the coach to the dressing rooms on a fleet of skateboards.
With only a threadbare squad, and having to play some kids, not to mention the fact that Newport fans have been calling for Dean Holdsworth’s head since about five minutes after it popped around the dressing room door, saying “Alright fellas. I’m Dean. You might recognise me from ITV2’s ‘Deadline’”, it appeared they were there for the taking.
Dean, of course, is a former player of ours, his goals virtually single-handedly ensuring we didn’t get relegated in the first season of the Conference South. He then went off to join Phil Brown for an ill-fated spell as assistant manager at Derby County, before returning to us a year later via Weymouth.
However by this point, as I wrote at the time, his team-shirt had begun to fall around his body in much the same way as a pair of tights settles around a bank-robber’s face. Nonetheless, for his thirty-three goals two seasons prior, he has remained fondly thought of. Well, those and his blindingly white teeth, which he was requested to show off whenever scoring.
Naturally, we hoped those gleaming ivories would remain firmly under wraps today. We didn’t want to kick our old chum whilst he was down. No, we needed to kick our old chum while he was down. The Cup guff now being over, a rebuilding of confidence was required for the league, particularly after five consecutive defeats.
It all started pretty well too, looking lively, getting width with the return of Charlie Henry and Brett Poate to the starting line-up, and Robbie Matthews, newly arrived on loan from Salisbury, looking just the big, physical presence we needed up front. However, all it took was for Newport to convert the first chance they had, and it all dissolved like rice paper in the rain.
The second half we hoped, apropos of little, would see us come out all guns blazing. As it was we came out largely with empty holsters, and those that did brings guns were just click-clicking round the empty chambers whilst holding the barrel up to their eyes to see if there was a clog.
However, a late equaliser was got, Paul Booth getting a spongy touch on a pass from Jamie Collins that then trickled into the far corner like a dying stream in a drought. We celebrated, but with a hint of realism. Even with Ian Simpemba and Craig Watkins missing sitters, Newport might well feel that they’d been robbed.
This just turns up the pressure on the manager just that little bit more. I would hate to see a good man, who gave us some of our best times, hounded out of the club with taunts from the terraces. However there is only so much people can take without getting frustrated. It must look even bleaker to those who didn’t get to Chelmsford or Crawley, but perhaps those performances are the exception that proves a rather depressing rule.
Even I, trying to keep a rose-tinted rictus grin on my face through league defeat after league defeat, have found some selectorial and tactical decisions baffling. There are one or two players that have struggled on like wounded animals to the point where it wouldn’t be too shocking to turn up to West Leigh Park to find Shaun Gale rubbing their belly fur and weeping softly, whilst behind him a vet was flicking a syringe. Instead, they have tended to get a first team start.
However, for all the gallows humour (if you can call it that), perhaps the good fortune of a point against our fellow underachievers can represent the start of something and hopefully, oooooh-oi, it’ll be something good that’s going to happen.
Next Sunday we go to our Conference South chums Fisher in the FA Trophy, another club with sapped morale, the money having disappeared forcing them to field an amateur side. However, an away win for them this weekend at Bishop’s Stortford will prove that such adversity can seal a battling bond. As our game with Newport has proved, there are never any easy tasks, especially when we retain the ability to make things hard for ourselves.
Yet, if we translate our twenty-minute start today into a ninety-minute tour-de-force, then something good will happen.