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2012/13 - Play-Off Victory

Everything is history.

Every match, goal, promotion and even relegation helps compose the history of Newport County AFC since the founder club was formed in 1912.  But of course, some moments will always have that extra bit of importance, especially when a play-off victory is achieved at the home of football, Wembley Stadium.

Here, re-live one of County’s finest seasons as they secured promotion back into the Football League after a 25-year absence.

Background Information to the campaign

After spending six seasons in the Conference South, the Exiles finally secured themselves a promotion into the Conference Premier thanks to a glittering 2009/10 campaign that saw them lose just three games all season and set a record breaking points tally of 103 from 42 matches.

The first campaign in the fifth-tier was a relatively successful one as the Exiles occupied a prominent position in the table at the turn of the year, although the departure of manager Dean Holdsworth had an adverse effect on the team somewhat and they finished in 9th.

The 2011/12 season couldn’t follow a suit of progression from a league perspective, however, with Justin Edinburgh coming into the football club in the October of that campaign and steering the Exiles away from the relegation zone and finishing in 19th position.

Away from the league scene, history was made for the Exiles as they made it to Wembley for the first time in their history on their 100th anniversary.

Forest Green Rovers, Worksop Town and Carshalton Athletic were all swiftly swept aside as County moved into the quarter-finals of the FA Trophy, where they had to come from two goals down to beat Northwich Victoria.

A double-headed semi-final with Wealdstone lay in wait next, but the Exiles followed up a 3-1 home victory with a 0-0 draw in the second-leg to book their place in the showpiece final at the home of football.

The 12th May 2012 wasn’t to be one of the glory days for Newport County AFC, however, as second-half goals from Matty Blair and Lanre Oyebanjo saw York City take home the FA Trophy in a 2-0 victory.

But reaching the final of the competition gave County some hope that they could replicate those performances in the league. Could Justin Edinburgh – after his first full summer transfer window – finally guide the Exiles back into the Football League?

   

Changes to the squad in the summer window

To boost his quest for a potential promotion, Justin Edinburgh moved swiftly in the summer transfer market and brought in no less than nine players – including at least one for each section of the field.

He brought in two goalkeepers – Alan Julian and Lenny Pidgeley – alongside defender and Welshman Tony James from Burton Albion.

No introductions needed in the midfield as Mike Flynn returned to his boyhood club for the third time, whilst Jake Thomson also moved to South Wales to bolster the middle of the park for the Exiles.

That just leaves the four strikers brought in by Edinburgh, starting with a double raid of Luton Town when signing Aaron O’Connor and Danny Crow.

Jefferson Louis and Conor Washington were the other players to join the club in the summer window of 2012.

All those incomings had to equal themselves out with departures, however, with three legends of the Conference South promotion team leaving for pastures new – namely Glyn Thompson, club captain Gary Warren and Sam Foley.   

Lee Baker, Elliott Buchanan, Darryl Knights, Troy Greening, Guillaume Velez, Paul Rodgers, Craig McAllister, Kris Fielden and Mark Cooper also departed the Exiles that summer.

 

Pre-Season

Perhaps the most important piece of news during pre-season came away from the games themselves as Newport County AFC announced an exciting new venture to move from Spytty Park and play all home matches at Rodney Parade.

The Exiles had to wait a little while to first step out onto the surface at their new home, however, playing their first three pre-season friendlies away from home.

A 3-1 defeat at Undy AFC was soon followed by a 1-1 draw with Moreton Rovers, before a first win of the pre-season calendar was secured in the ‘Carl Lewis Memorial Trophy’ thanks to a 3-0 victory over Evesham United.

Another 3-1 defeat then arrived at Carmarthen Town, before the Exiles began the new era at Rodney Parade with a game against Bristol Rovers on 24th July 2012.

Jefferson Louis scored the first ever County goal at Rodney Parade as part of a 2-0 success – while the pre-season schedule was completed with 2-2 draws against both Merthyr Town and Swansea City, alongside a 3-1 reverse to Yeovil Town.

 

League results up until January

Newport County AFC picked up maximum points throughout the opening month of the 2012/13 campaign, starting with arguably the best opening day success in history for the side during a seven-goal thriller at Mansfield Town.

Next came the first competitive game for the Exiles at Rodney Parade, the side again scoring four as part of a convincing 4-0 success against Nuneaton Town – Aaron O’Connor scoring twice alongside Jefferson Louis and Lee Evans.

Back-to-back 2-1 victories against Lincoln City and Braintree Town then follow, before rounding off August with an Andy Sandell thunderbolt against Hereford United as part of a 2-0 win.

Watch that goal on the following video from Glyn Neale 

September didn’t start off in the same vein, however, as the Exiles suffered their first defeat of the season at the Racecourse against Wrexham 2-0.

That swiftly became three games without a win following another defeat by the same scoreline at Dartford alongside a shutout with Stockport County, before returning to winning ways with a 3-0 victory after making the long trip to Barrow.

Ben Swallow’s dramatic stoppage time winner gifted County a 2-1 victory over Southport – with the winning run continuing thanks to a 4-2 victory at AFC Telford United. The month ended with a shutout against Grimsby Town.

October was a mixed month of results for the Exiles, although it did start in the perfect fashion thanks to 2-1 and 1-0 victories against Tamworth and Ebbsfleet United respectively.

Non-league day on 13th October 2012 saw the Exiles handed the early 12:30 kick-off against Macclesfield Town – a 1-1 draw ensuing at Moss Rose – before completing that month with the first home defeat of the campaign against Woking 3-2.

November only saw three games, but it did produce County’s biggest win throughout the entirety of the campaign – that coming in a thumping 6-2 victory against Cambridge United at Rodney Parade on 6th November 2012.

Michael Smith and Christian Jolley both joined the club around this time on loan deals from Charlton Athletic and AFC Wimbledon, whilst now academy manager Byron Anthony also moved to South Wales in a permanent deal. 

Premier Sports then selected County as part of its TV coverage during the 4-3 defeat at Alfreton Town, whilst even a 3-1 reverse at home to Hyde couldn’t prevent Newport County AFC from topping the table ahead of the final month of 2012.

December started with a confident 3-1 victory over Gateshead at Rodney Parade, before the Exiles were edged out thanks to an all-headed hat-trick from Jamille Matt in the 3-2 defeat at Kidderminster Harriers.

Another thumping victory then came in a 5-2 success over Luton Town, whilst the Exiles completed 2012 with two unbelievable goals on Boxing Day in the 2-1 victory over Forest Green Rovers.

Ben Swallow scored directly from a corner-kick to equalise that afternoon, setting the stage for Ryan Charles to score a superb 25-yard finish and send the 1,029 away fans delirious in the sodden conditions at the New Lawn.

You can watch those goals again thanks to Glyn Neale’s video 

All the above results meant County ended 2012 in 2nd place of the Conference table.   

 

Changes to the squad in the January window

The January transfer window wasn’t as busy as the preceding summer, but it was certainly as important from a Newport County AFC perspective.

County fended off interest from other Conference and some League 2 clubs to make Christian Jolley’s loan deal permanent, alongside bringing Robbie Willmott to South Wales from Cambridge United.

Scott Donnelly and Will Evans also joined the Exiles on short-term deals during the window.

In terms of outgoings from Rodney Parade across that month, now Wales international Lee Evans joined Wolverhampton Wanderers for an undisclosed fee, alongside the departures of Jefferson Louis, Ryan Charles and Jake Thomson.
 

League results until the end of the season

Following a stellar start to the campaign, the Exiles didn’t exactly make the best of starts to 2013 as they failed to replicate their Boxing Day exploits during the 5-0 home defeat to Forest Green Rovers on New Years Day.

A 1-1 draw in the Welsh derby with Wrexham then followed for County, before Robbie Willmott marked his first debut for the club with a double in the 4-2 success at Lincoln City.

Severe snow fall across South Wales put the next match against Barrow in severe doubt on 19th January. But the arduous work from County supporters paid dividends when the game was given the all clear, although it wasn’t the best of results during the 2-0 reverse.

February started with a 2-2 draw against Tamworth, before the Exiles put a run of five wins together to basically consolidate themselves at-least a play-off spot come the end of the season.

That started with the 2-0 victory against eventual champions Mansfield Town, before the 3-1 away success at Woking was backed up by a 2-1 home victory against AFC Telford United.

March began with a 1-0 away success at Hyde thanks to an outrageous chipped attempt from Christian Jolley, before arguably the most memorable game of the campaign came on 5th March 2013 during the away tie at Hereford United.

On the same night, European giants Manchester United and Real Madrid were meeting in their Champions League tie, but the true drama and excitement was occurring at Edgar Street as the Exiles won 3-2 in the most dramatic of circumstances.

Hereford took a lead with them into half-time in strange circumstances – Marley Watkins seeing his spot-kick saved before being fouled whilst going for the rebound and winning a second penalty in a matter of seconds.

Josh O’Keefe dispatched it to put the home side in-front, only for Lee Minshull to level proceedings in the second-half. O’Keefe and Minshull again traded goals to set the game up for a tense finale – with Robbie Willmott exquisitely placing a chipped attempt into the far corner and causing pandemonium for the 1,162 away supporters.

You can again watch the highlights with Glyn Neale’s video – alongside commentary from Tim Thraves that sums up the magnitude of the occasion to perfection

There was to be no late drama in the next match, however, as the Exiles were held to a 1-1 draw at Ebbsfleet United, eventually going three without victory following a 2-1 defeat to Kidderminster Harriers and a 1-0 reverse at Stockport County.

County’s return to winning ways at Southport 2-0 coincided with Alex Gilbey’s arrival at the club on loan from Colchester United, the midfielder making his first start for the Exiles in a 0-0 draw with Dartford that followed another shutout against Gateshead.

All that left County in 4th position ahead of the final month of the regular season, although it was to be a busy 20 days following the postponements of several games earlier on in the campaign.

The Exiles would go unbeaten until the final game of the season thanks to a good run of form, that starting with a 2-1 success at Nuneaton alongside a 0-0 draw with Cambridge United.

Three home victories then followed which virtually guaranteed County a home game in the second-leg of the play-offs, Braintree Town seen off by the narrowest of margins before 4-1 and 2-0 victories over Macclesfield Town and Alfreton Town respectively.

That just leaves the final two games of the season – both coming away from home – as a 2-2 draw with Luton Town and a 3-0 defeat to Grimsby Town saw the Exiles complete the campaign in 3rd position and setup a play-off semi-final tie with the Mariners.

Play-Off Campaign

Just four days after suffering a comprehensive defeat to Grimsby Town on the final day of the season, the Exiles headed back to Blundell Park for the first leg of the play-off semi-final.

No such problems this time around, however, as Ismail Yakubu struck late on to give County the narrowest of advantages ahead of the second-leg at Rodney Parade.

Re-live that game and ‘The Yak’s’ bizarre celebration with another video from Glyn Neale

Team that day: Pidgeley, Pipe, James, Yakubu, Minshull, Crow, Sandell, Flynn, Anthony, Jolley, Gilbey.

That 1-0 advantage for the Exiles set up a tense second-leg at Rodney Parade on 28th April 2013. But any fears from - what was at the time - a record home crowd at the stadium were soon put to bed as Alex Gilbey and Christian Jolley combined for another 1-0 victory that sent the Exiles back to Wembley for the second successive season.

Watch the highlights of the second-leg

Team that day: Pidgeley, Pipe, James, Yakubu, Minshull, Crow, Sandell, Flynn, Anthony, Jolley, Gilbey.

What more needs to be written about Saturday 5th May 2013? The 25-year mission to return to the Football League was complete – all thanks to goals in the dying minutes from Christian Jolley and Aaron O’Connor that secured a 2-0 victory over Wrexham.

Team that day: Pidgeley, Pipe, James, Yakubu, Anthony, Gilbey, Minshull, Flynn, Sandell, Crow, Jolley

Need any more incentive to re-watch the game? Try the extended highlights with another inch-perfect commentary performance from Tim Thraves

Justin Edinburgh said post-match: "It's the most amazing day of my footballing career, this tops everything I've done.

"I'm so proud of these players and these supporters, and everyone connected with this football club - this is well deserved. That's what dreams are made of and a lot of these people have sacrificed a lot this year.

"The supporters have made my job easy since I've been here, and this is for them, this is a payback."


How County fared in the cup competitions that season

Talk about the ‘Great Escape’ in 2016/17, more like the ‘Yate Escape’ this campaign during the fourth qualifying round of the Emirates FA Cup.

Trailing 3-1 to the Gloucestershire outfit heading into added-time, goals from Aaron O’Connor and Tony James spared County’s blushes at Lodge Road and forced a replay.

But the Exiles couldn’t replicate those late heroics as Yate won the replay at Rodney Parade in extra-time 3-1. That saw the side into the first round of the competition for the first time in their history – and to date still there only appearance that far – before a convincing 3-0 defeat to Cheltenham Town.

In the FA Trophy, the Exiles couldn’t match their exploits that took them all the way to Wembley in the previous campaign - as they were swiftly dispatched 2-0 by Welling United in the first round of the competition.

 

Goal scoring statistics (Competitive fixtures only)

Top-scorer: Aaron O’Connor – 21

Total goals scored: 93

Full breakdown:

Aaron O’Connor – 21

Christian Jolley – 15

Andy Sandell – 8

Robbie Willmott – 6

Lee Minshull – 6

Ismail Yakubu – 6

Michael Smith – 4

Tony James – 3

Jefferson Louis – 3

Lee Evans – 3

Danny Crow – 3

Byron Anthony – 3

Own Goals – 3

Mike Flynn - 2

Max Porter – 2

Ben Swallow – 2

Ryan Charles – 1

Scott Donnelly – 1

Conor Washington – 1

 

Article by Ryan Robinson