MICHAEL FLYNN's Amber Army have become perennial giant-killers in the FA Cup and Gab Sutton (@_FootbalLab) reckons they can work their magic against Boro
Newport v Middlesbrough | Tuesday 5th February 2019, 19:45 | BT Sport
Michael Flynn and Tony Pulis: both from Pill in Newport, both went to St Joseph’s School, both became managers and enjoyed longevity in their respective roles due to their expertise as footballing survivalists.
The two men, who had been in contact long before the FA Cup Fourth Round draw pitted them together, share great mutual respect – but who will come out on top at Rodney Parade and who will taste the bitter pill of defeat?
Newport’s siege mentality
Newport County are a special football club with a unique spirit about them – for a period after Justin Edinburgh left midway through 2014-15, their second season back in the EFL, they had not quite found the right manager to bring that out of them.
Of course, that has all changed since Flynn took charge in Spring 2017.
Not only is the 38-year-old an excellent gaffer in his own right, he has that added advantage of being a local lad who supporters can relate to, which can offer a massive psychological benefit in games in which Newport are the underdogs.
Under the former midfielder’s guidance, Newport have hosted a higher-placed team on 30 occasions in all competitions – this includes league games against sides that finished above them and cup clashes against teams from a loftier division.
Seventeen of those encounters, the Exiles have won – the other 13 games are accounted for by nine draws, one of which coming against Tottenham and four defeats.
That equates to two points per game which, for contest, is what Chelsea are averaging in the Premier League and would be title-winning form in most other divisions.
That is quite remarkable, considering the Exiles finished 11th last term and are currently 14th.
Reasons for this? It could be the weather, the muddy pitch that suits more agricultural outfits, the long throws that higher-placed sides might not be equipped for, the passion of fans, the frequent rise in home support for more glamorous ties and the team’s siege mentality.
Most likely, it is a combination of these factors.
In normal circumstances, a so-called better side would normally expect to beat a supposedly inferior team, yet there is something about the conditions at Rodney Parade which consistently re-arranges the status quo.
The Man City carrot
For Newport, the prospect of hosting Manchester City in the last-16 is hugely incentivising.
Not only would their players get a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to test themselves against one of the best squads in world football, they would also get a lot of money from yet another televised encounter.
The extra income would help the club improve it’s off-field facilities and compete with bigger clubs in the summer transfer market – as well as the amazing memories the clash would create for all concerned.
With Newport 10 points off the play-offs in League Two but only needing essentially six points from 17 games to secure their EFL status, this match is very likely to be the most important one they will play between now and the end of the season.
While it would be wrong to suggest that Middlesbrough will not be working hard to win, that sense of fierce determination that we will almost certainly see in Newport might not quite as evident in them.
The Tactics Board
If Middlesbrough were to beat Leeds on Saturday lunch-time, then win at Sheffield United the following Wednesday, they could very quickly reclaim their position as prime contenders for automatic promotion.
For that reason, it is possible that Pulis might shuffle his pack.
We could see 16-year-old Nathan Wood come into the eleven, being fourth choice centre-back due to Danny Batth’s exit.
With no second natural left-back in the squad, resting George Friend would necessitate an auxiliary option.
Added to that, Boro could field a 40-year-old goalkeeper in Dimitrios Konstantopoulos and, conceivably, a ball-playing midfielder in Paddy McNair at right-back.
A makeshift defence could find it difficult to handle a powerful target man like Jamille Matt, who will be the reference point from Matty Dolan or Ben Kennedy’s set pieces, as well as Mickey Demetriou’s long throws.
Added to that, Newport’s battle-hardened campaigners like right-back David Pipe and midfielder Joss Labadie are both brilliant without the ball.
It is tempting to portray them as fearless gladiators, yet their aggression is also intelligently-channelled; Pipe and Labadie love to charge at their opponents to trigger the press, then recoil to their former position once the safe pass has been played.
Against possibly a patched-up Middlesbrough side who might not necessarily have the greatest understanding and belief in their playing identity for this game, Newport’s pressing could prove effective.
The Betting Angle
Clearly, we’ll be siding with Newport for our best bet but rather than take the outright price on them at under 3/1, we’ll go that bit further.
Each of the last five victories for League Two sides up against a team in the top two divisions have seen four goals or fewer.
If Newport were ahead at any point in the second half, we can expect them to put a lot of energy into their defensive efforts which means that a free-scoring encounter is unlikely.
For that reason, we’ll take Coral’s 16/5 on Newport to win a game with Under 4.5 Goals.
Newport v Middlesbrough – Newport to win and Under 4.5 Goals (16/5 Coral)