Match Overview

You couldn’t write it! The magic of the FA Cup pits the League Two finalists from season 20/21 against each other 206 days later!

However, the two teams now look completely different. Both sides have new managers – with Newport´s 36 year old manager, James Roweberry, having been installed as recently as the 20th October while Stephen Robinson arrived on June 7th. After a summer overhaul,  just seven Morecambe players remain from last year’s first team squad.

The feeling of injustice certainly remains for some the County faithful – aggrieved over the crucial penalty decision awarded to Morecambe and the penalty (they feel) the ref failed to award them. For those who need reminding, while attempting a punched clearance from an Exiles long throw, the Shrimps’ goalkeeper, Kyle Letheren, struck Newport’s Scott Bennett in the head, but no penalty was awarded. 

Fast forward to the current fixture and I am very pleased to have the contribution of Newport fanatic Dan Grace to bring me up to speed with the recent changes. 

So what is he expecting from the game?

¨This will be Rowberry’s third game in charge and if the previous two are anything to go by it should be an entertaining game Saturday. There is such a positive atmosphere around the club after he won his first two games, scoring 8 goals in the process, and I would expect us to be heading to Morecambe Saturday looking to play on the front foot rather than sitting back and trying to get a goal on the break.

Rowberry has stated his keenness to improve our PPDA numbers (prior to him taking charge we had the 2nd highest PPDA in the league) and that is something that’s been very evident in his first two games in charge. There’s obviously the great narrative of last season’s League Two play off final behind this game but this is a very different Newport side to the one Morecambe beat in May.

It’s possible that only Mickey Demetriou and Aaron Lewis will remain from the team that started that day, although expect Kevin Ellison to be one of the Newport substitutes! We also love a cup run, so we will be keen to keep our great cup record of previous seasons going and not exit the competition at the first-round stage.¨

It’s extremely useful to get Dan´s insights with there being a number of variables which make this fixture hard to predict. The obvious one is that it’s the FA Cup and the match brings together two squads who are a division apart. To what extent is there a gap in quality? 

The Shrimps have not won in the last 7 fixtures across all competitions, whilst County are brimming full of confidence following two straight wins in Rowberry´s first games.

I haven’t paid as much attention as usual to the League metrics for this preview for two reasons: the divisional gap and Rowberry is still implementing his system so past data only tells part of the story. 

With the expertise of Dan the preview will look at selection decisions for both managers, the strengths and weaknesses of County, opportunities against them and threats from them.

The Shrimps´ Selections

Prior to Tuesday’s loss at The Mazuma Stadium to Cambridge, we had produced two good performances against Oxford United and Plymouth Argyle. Unfortunately, neither the result nor the performance were there to be seen in midweek. 

In his pre-match interview, The Gaffa stated that it was our ´worst performance of the season´and it’s hard to disagree. 

It speaks volumes that our best player was 19-year-old Freddie Price (in action below last season – photo from Official MFC Site), who played just 34 minutes and, overall, has only played 194 minutes this season. 

Robbo has continuously talked about bravery in all aspects of the game and apart from a couple of exemptions, few players showed their courage. 

He stated in his post match interview

¨We put the squad together very very quickly and I’ve challenged the boys in there. This is tough. We knew this would happen. We expected us to have a tough season and our aim was to stay in this division and it will be an absolute battle.

Cambridge came here and were men, we were boys. I think the first tackle I’ve seen since I came to the club with any venom and meaning in it was Freddie Price when he came on with his enthusiasm. Some of the younger lads like him, Alfie (McCalmont) and Callum (Jones) actually showed some fire in their belly.

There’s a lot of boys with question marks now, whether they can come to this level and perform¨

A line up is extremely difficult to predict when just two of three players who showed the level the Gaffa wants are available. Sadly, in the pre-match interview, Robbo confirmed Freddie Price has picked up an ankle injury in training. 

I tend to think from his words that he’ll be giving the majority of players a chance to show their willingness to fight and put in a better performance, but he has talked about a few changes. 

My first predicted change is a switch of goalkeepers. Simply for the reason of giving Kyle Lethren some game time and bringing in his experience. There isn’t a great deal between Jökull Andrésson and Letheren, so I don´t believe Stephen has a firm Number One in mind.

The second area I foresee a change is at left back; bringing in Liam Gibson for Greg Leigh. The Jamaican international, Leigh, has played four full games in two weeks and, having recently recovered from a long-term injury, he’s someone who needs to be carefully managed.

The final area I believe could see rotation is in the wide forward positions. Wes McDonald’s performance, when given the opportunity to stretch his legs against Cambridge’s right full back, Jubril Okedina, looked timid at times. He’s shown moments of brilliance this season, but I believe he needs to show more consistency if he’s to be a regular first XI choice at League One level. Arthur Gnahoua is expected to be still missing, at least for the short term, through a thigh injury. 

Shayon Harrison, who we picked up mid-season as a free agent, has been unlucky with injuries and has played just 50 minutes following a toe injury. 

Our defensive lapses at centre back have been well documented this season. However, I predict he’ll challenge both centre backs – Anthony O´Connor and Scott Wootton – to remind him why he brought them to the club as League One players. Both players have extensive experience at League One so, in theory, they should be able to cope with the threat offered from League Two forwards. 

With the exciting arrival this week of Martin Foyle as Head of Recruitment, players who can’t show a regular level of performance will no doubt have their positions threatened by any incoming arrivals after Christmas. 

County´s Selections (According to Dan)

¨After last Saturday’s 5-0 win, I don’t think Rowberry will have too many dilemmas when picking his side for this weekend’s game. In the post-match press conference after Saturday’s game, Rowberry was asked whether he would rotate in the cup. He highlighted the importance of the competition to the club and with this still being the early days of his reign, I expect he will want to give what he considers his strongest side the opportunity to gain more experience with his way of playing. We also have an EFL Trophy game three days later which is the fixture I suspect Rowberry will see as the opportunity for rotation. We set up with a diamond in midfield last weekend and, given that worked so well, I would expect to see a similar system implemented here. Expect the three more advanced midfielders to be very fluid. Matty Dolan should be back from injury after missing Saturday’s win, but he will probably only take up a place on the bench. 

If Rowberry did want to tinker, he may decide to bring in a more defensive minded midfielder such as Christopher Missilou or the returning Dolan for one of the more advanced midfielders, with this being his toughest game on paper so far. We are also comfortable playing in a 532, which was the system used throughout the majority of Flynn’s reign. If Rowberry decided to go with that system it would probably involve Dolan coming in, again for one of the more advanced midfielders. I would expect the team to remain unchanged from the win against Stevenage though.¨

James Rowberry clapping the fans after their 5-0 victory in his first home match in charge – photo from Newport County Official Twitter

County´s Strengths

From Dan´s perspective their greatest weapons are as follows, 

¨Dom Telford is on a real hot streak. Telford couldn’t even make the bench at the start of the season but is now the joint top scorer in League Two with 9 goals in 8 appearances, averaging a goal every 65 minutes in the league. Telford and Baker-Richardson have started to form what looks a very promising partnership and it feels like every time they get so much as a half chance it will result in a goal.

The three most advanced midfielders are exciting young technical footballers. Cain and Azaz (on loan from Liverpool and Aston Villa respectively) are great on the ball and Cooper (on loan from Swansea) is a wonderful dribbler. I expect the three to interchange positions throughout, seeing that Stevenage simply couldn’t handle their movement and ball playing ability last weekend. The back 4 are all very comfortable on the ball and we will look to pass it out from the back as much as possible. We’re also quite creative with our corner routines. Wayne Hatswell has been responsible for setting up our attacking set pieces for a long time now so we didn’t lose anything in that regard when Michael Flynn left. The first corner we get is usually a creative routine, so that’s something to look out for.

It also feels like there’s a great amount of momentum behind us now.  James Rowberry seems to have breathed new life into the club since his appointment and we’re heading into this game 6 unbeaten, so expect to see a Newport side confident on the ball.¨

Telford´s form is red hot, coming into this game with seven goals in three games and according to Wyscout, 57.6% of his 33 shots have been on target this season (illustrated in the 21/22 shot map below). With an average of 4.4 shots per game, he’s likely to have at least a couple of shots to test our keeper.

His last outing against Stevenage saw him put six of his seven shots on target and pick up the match-ball for a hattrick.

If we review his three goals against Stevenage it shows the varied danger he possesses, but also gives us a general indication of what we can expect from Newport. 

1st Goal – A right footed cross from Robbie Wilmott was poorly headed into the path of Dom by left back Ben Coker. The 24 year old lashed home from within the six yard box. 

2nd Goal – midfielder Oli Cooper intercepts a loose Stevenage pass deep in the Newport half.

The 21-year old Derby-born, Welsh U21 international on loan from Swansea drives to within 10-15 yards outside the area. He spots Telford peeling off to the left side of the area and plays him in.

Dom´s left footed strike within the box is deflected into the bottom corner for his second of the match.

3rd goal – 21-year old Villa loanee – Finn Azaz – is driving into the heart of the Stevenage´s half

Whilst he is temporarily dispossessed from a tackle, the ball falls to striker Baker Richardson.

This time Telford curved his run and peeled off to the right side of the area.

Surrounded by Stevenage defenders, he still manages to find enough space to hit an unstoppable left foot shot past Adam Smith in the Borough goal. 

These goals illustrate he can be found in any area around the box, has great movement and doesn’t need a lot of space to get his shots off. 

Throughout those goals it’s obvious that the thrust and combination play from midfield is a big danger from the Newport team. They have players who can dribble with the ball and pick a pass. 

I found this passage of play fascinating against Bristol Rovers, as it demonstrates the aggressive movement from their forward players. 

20 year-old Liverpool midfielder and loanee, Jake Cain, finds himself unmarked after receiving  a pass from Azaz following a throw-in, he’s facing goal approximately 20 yards out.

He sends a low through ball to attacking midfielder Oli Cooper in the box. In this current picture, Newport have a 3 vs 3 with the two centre backs and right backs of Stevenage occupied.

His right footed first touch takes him away from centre-back Alfie Kilgour. If you look, you can see Dom Telford has already spotted the opportunity and got a march against his flat footed marker, Connor Taylor.

Cooper then lays it into Telford´s path with his left foot. As we saw from his hattrick against Stevenage, he needs little room to operate to get a strike on goal. For once his shot goes wide.

This is embarrassingly weak defending from Rovers’ midfield in not closing down the opportunity. It shows that if the opposition midfield don´t press County´s midfield, they can slice you open quickly with some simple inter-play around the box. 

Rover didn’t take notice of the warning signs and a lack of pressing led to Newport´s first goal. 

A headed clearance from a cross found midfielder Robbie Wilmott uncontested within 10 yards of the box.

With plenty of time and space to switch feet, he moves onto his right foot and plays a low weighted ball into the path of Jake Cain. 

Cain has space to take a touch in the box and puts a low cross into the six yard box. 

Barker Richardson is left at the back-post to tap home.

This is an unbelievably soft goal to concede. If given room to thread passes, in this form, County will be guaranteed to  score against you. 

These opportunities prove it’s a team responsibility to press out the opposition to restrict their attack. 

County´s Weaknesses

From Dan´s perspective, 

¨With all due respect to Bristol Rovers and Stevenage, they appear to be two of the weaker teams in League Two at the moment. This will be by far the toughest of Rowberry’s first three games in charge. He has clearly improved the side going forward but we are yet to come up against a side that has posed too many questions to us defensively, so we’re still a bit of an unknown quantity in that sense. It remains to be seen how the very attack minded midfield would cope defensively against a side more dangerous going forward. If we continue with Baker-Richardson and Telford up front, we also lack a focal point who can hold the ball up if we choose to go long. Baker-Richardson and Telford are great runners but won’t be brilliant at winning the ball in the air.

You would also have to say that despite his brilliant start, a couple of questions still remain about Rowberry’s ability to influence games after they have started. That’s not to say he doesn’t have the ability to do so, as he has not put a foot wrong so far, however we haven’t yet found ourselves behind in a game with him in charge and this is only the third game of his managerial career. It would be interesting to see how he would react should we fall behind on Saturday. I also wouldn’t expect a massive contingent of Newport fans to be travelling up to Morecambe. We have recently had two of our closest away games in Exeter and Bristol Rovers back to back so those games would have been prioritised for our fans. I am sure the fans that do make the trip will make as much noise as possible though!¨

Looking at a side who have scored 8 and conceded one under Rowberry, you’d be forgiven for admiring their attacking prowess. 

Examining these two games, it’s obvious they are an aggressive and attack minded side in their mentality. By the very nature of a 4-3-1-2 formation, you’d naturally expect there to be gaps out-wide in midfield, and it does appear two of the central midfielders tend to drift more into wide positions. 

In Jake Cain´s action maps, from Wyscout, against Bristol Rovers (left) and Stevenage (right,) you can see he spends a lot of time involved in wide midfielder duties. 

The same can be said for Ollie Cooper on the opposite flank in his action maps against Rovers (left) and Stevenage (right). 

It’s the full-backs aggression and eagerness to support attacks which could be a potential weakness. 

In the left back position, right-footed Aaron Lewis loves to get involved in attack.

In the action below, he switches the ball onto his favoured right foot to loft a ball forward – just inside the opposition’s half.

His immediate instinct, while the ball travels, is to push past his marker and get further into the opposition’s half.

The Rovers defender easily clears the danger and Lewis is left behind the action. You can see left centre back Mickey Demetriou covering the space Lewis has left.

Looking at his pass receive map against Stevenage, there are also six occasions in which he loses possession from a pass in the opposition half.

In reality, centre back Demetriou appears to play more like a left back (looking at his heatmap), whilst Lewis plays more like a wing back in this formation. 

Demetriou VS Stevenage

On the other flank, you can see something similar emerge with right back Cameron Norman. Four of his passes played against Bristol Rovers were lost just outside the box on the right. These were crosses.

In the below example, Norman hits a cross into the box from the touch line, midway into the half.

His cross is easily cut out and cleared by the first man.

The clearance reaches attacking midfielder Aarron Collins and Norman is out of his position at right back.

So, who covers his position? 

Looking at right centre back James Clarke´s heat-map (from Wyscout), you’d think he was a right back.

As Dan has suggested, it’ll be interesting to see how Newport cope against more potent attacking opposition than Bristol Rovers and Stevenage. 

Opportunities Against County

According to Dan

¨For all the strengths the midfield have going forward, question marks remain over the midfield defensively. Robbie Willmott was playing on the wing for Exeter last season and is now our holding midfielder. Cooper, Cain and Azaz are also very much attack minded midfielders. 

There have been times this season where the midfield just in front of the defence has been almost non existent. For example, away to Exeter a few games ago Matt Jay ran about 15 yards unopposed straight through our midfield before scoring from the edge of the area, so there will definitely be opportunities for Morecambe to find space between our defence and midfield. 

We are definitely a team more used to sitting off sides in previous seasons rather than pressing, something that we have only started doing since Rowberry took charge. Given our limited time working on this way of playing, I would expect Morecambe to have some opportunities to break our press and find themselves running at our back line. 

Finally, as mentioned previously, playing Baker-Richardson and Telford up front doesn’t give us much of a focal point. If Morecambe can cut off our passing lanes into midfield and force us to go long, they may be able to nullify our attacking threat and dominate our strikers in the air.¨

Newport forward Courney Baker-Richarson has won just three of his seventeen aerial battles in the last two games, whilst his strike partner Telford has won one from six in the last two games. 

As mentioned in the weaknesses, both full backs love to get right up into the opposition half with varied success. If we’re able to break quickly there should be plenty of space in the Newport County half.

As we’ve seen, both centre backs spend a lot of time out wide with Demetriou covering Lewis on the left and Clarke covering Norman on the right. This would logically suggest gaps would open up down the middle or the opposite flank from which the attack has broken down. 

For example, if Lewis loses the ball high on the left, Demetriou would have to move across to cover his flank. Clarke and right back Norman would be expected to shuffle across to cover Demetriou in the centre. This would mean there´s space elsewhere in the back-line, perhaps down their right flank. If we’re able to switch play or play direct balls to Cole Stockton down the middle, we could punish them on the break. The Liverpudlian will be looking to add to his remarkable return of 13 in 17 across all competitions.

Morecambe striker believes Shrimps deserve more credit for winning  promotion | The Visitor
Cole Stockon celebrating the Wembley win with right back Ryan Cooney.

 

We may actually cause more damage out of possession, regaining the ball and countering. 

For this to happen our passing must be crisper and quicker than it was against Cambridge on Tuesday night. We’re not blessed with forward players who are strong in the air (Robbo said as much in his pre-match interview) so I’d like us to focus our attention on low-mid height crosses into the box. We have players who are technical and quick feet. Therefore, we need to play to our strengths with our deliveries. 

The opportunities against are generally more applicable to the predicted 4-3-1-2.

I wouldn´t be at all shocked if James Rowberry switched to 3 at the back to give that extra man cover.

County´s Threats

From Dan´s perspective, 

¨The way the midfield interchanged positions against Stevenage last weekend was brilliant to watch and if we can create space for Azaz and Cain to pick their passes through midfield that will give us a great chance of winning the game on Saturday. In Ollie Cooper, we also have a very dangerous player in transition. If he can find space in between the Morecambe midfield and defence, that could also be an area we look to exploit. Expect to see our full backs looking to join in with our attacks at every opportunity.

Cameron Norman, who signed from Walsall in the summer, has been exceptional this season and both he and Aaron Lewis, who I would expect to start at left back, have the ability to cause problems with their delivery from out wide.

Rowberry’s attempts to improve our pressing have created a number of chances for us over the course of the last two games, so if Morecambe are guilty of overplaying in defence on Saturday they could find themselves in trouble. In Telford and Baker-Richardson, we also have two strikers probably in the form of their lives at the moment so, if Morecambe allow either of them too many chances, they will do well to find themselves advancing to the Second Round.¨

We simply cannot allow their midfield to pick a pass or run in midfield. We need to be aggressive, brave and win the battles in the centre and around our box before danger emerges. 

With their youthful and technical midfield, they have the ability to split defences with their interchanges, whilst they have forwards who will finish given a half-chance. Telford´s movement and finishing – in particular – is dangerous. Out of possession, the whole team must be committed to defending for the 90 minutes plus or we will concede against the lethal Welsh visitors. 

One final threat we should never forget is ex-Shrimp Kevin Ellison.

The Liverpudlian scored 88 goals for The Shrimps in 391 appearances (according to Transfermakt) and, despite his dear foe Derek Adams no longer managing Morecambe, he´d no doubt love to score an important goal against his former club. He´s never one to shy away from the limelight!

Watch Newport scorer Kevin Ellison, 42, scream in Morecambe boss Derek  Adams' face after he released him last year

LET THE BATTLE COMMENCE!

After the midweek defeat, which was so much harder to swallow due to the (non)performance of many of the team, we all felt naturally low. My thoughts were of the long, hard winter ahead of us, the inevitable grumblings from many and the toxicity of the few. Social media can be a horrible place at times. But, I’m happy to say, that hasn’t generally happened. 

I believe that’s because we’re behind Robbo and his staff. This is only James Roweberry’s third game in charge, well let’s not forget the The Gaffer hasn’t been here long himself; we, Morecambe, are still a ‘work in progress’ – we were quick out of the traps and that might have skewed our collective view – and it’s heartening to see that however disappointed we are at the moment, we are still pulling in the same direction.

The shrewd appointment of Martin Foyle, as our first ever Head of Recruitment, is another exciting milestone to emphasize the clubs ambitions as a sustainable League One football club. 

Whilst League One survival is our total focus, a win against our old friends from Wales would be a sweet distraction to our current challenges in the third tier of English football.  

I would like to say a big thank you to the excellent detailed insights from Dan Grace.

I hope you enjoyed the preview and analysis. If you did, please follow ShrimpsOnline for more news & updates. FEEL FREE TO LEAVE COMMENTS BELOW

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1 Comment

  1. Morris Twigg on 5 de November, 2021 at 6:55 pm

    Brilliant coverage Special Branch (2-2 prediction). I can’t see The Exiles losing.



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