Newport County AFC will be looking to sign off the 2017/18 campaign in the perfect fashion when they make the long trip to Carlisle United on Saturday. The Exiles can still achieve a record points tally in a season since returning to the Football League but only a victory would be good enough for that to occur, while the Cumbrians will be looking to give Keith Curle the appropriate send-off after the manager recently announced his intentions to leave the club following the conclusion of the match.
Tickets for County’s final game of the 2017/18 campaign are still available and here, you can find all the facts and statistics ahead of this League 2 encounter.
Last six league matches
Carlisle United have certainly become a difficult side to beat recently as they look to end the campaign on as positive a note as possible after failing to replicate last season’s exploits and achieve a play-off finish.
That recent run of good form could partly be down to the news last week that manager Keith Curle would leave the Cumbria outfit at the end of the season to pursue other avenues in football, although they have only actually played one game since that particular announcement.
Looking at their last six league matches more specifically, the Cumbrians have only suffered one defeat across that length of time, while they have amassed nine points following two wins and a further three draws.
That run starts with one of the victories as Carlisle ensured they enjoyed their Good Friday exploits with a 1-0 victory at Cheltenham Town.
Striker Jamie Devitt continued his recent rich vein of goal scoring form when converting from the penalty spot with a quarter-of-an-hour remaining, in what was his ninth goal of the campaign for the side.
The Cumbrians couldn’t convert that positive result into back-to-back victories, however, as Lincoln City boosted their own quest for a play-off berth with a 1-0 away victory at Brunton Park.
It was the perfect preparation for the Imps ahead of their CheckaTrade Trophy final encounter with League 1 side Shrewsbury Town just six days later – a game they won 1-0 thanks to a goal from Elliott Whitehouse at Wembley – although their victory at Carlisle came courtesy of ex-Exile Matt Green.
A red card in stoppage time for Mike Jones did no favours for the Cumbrians in that game, and neither did the 0-0 draw with Swindon Town in their next match which realistically ended any hopes of putting together a late charge into the League 2 play-offs.
Those play-off aspirations weren’t over mathematically even if they were almost impossible, and the Carlisle cause certainly wasn’t helped any further by only managing to secure a 1-1 draw at struggling Morecambe.
Devitt scored again to give the Cumbrians an early lead, although the Shrimpers showed what spirit and vigour may be needed in the battle to avoid relegation, as Callum Lang swiftly equalised to secure Morecambe their 17th draw of the campaign.
A third draw in succession against Luton Town finally confirmed mathematically that the Cumbrians could no longer aspire to a top-seven position in the table, although the point was just the ticket for the Hatters as they secured their own promotion into League 1.
Luton only had to match Exeter City’s result to secure that automatic place in the table – the Grecians laboured to a 2-2 draw at home to Crawley Town - and the Hatters took full advantage.
Carlisle almost spoilt that party, however, when Danny Grainger’s first-half penalty gave the Cumbrians a lead at half-time. But Olly Lee struck midway through the second-half to level proceedings and send the travelling support into rapture, while it was disappointment for Carlisle who were condemned to League 2 football against next season.
The decision then came from Curle to end his four-year stint in the hot set at Blundell Park, and on recent evidence, the players certainly want their manager to sign off in perfect fashion as they secured a 2-1 victory away at Port Vale last weekend.
Dior Angus scored on just his second EFL appearance to put the Valiants ahead at Vale Park, although the Cumbrians staged a late comeback in the second-half to secure all three points thanks to goals from Ashley Nadesan and Hallam Hope.
Curle said after that victory: “Going over to the fans at the end was very emotional. There were a lot of people thanking me for putting pride back into Carlisle United. That means a lot to me because I’ve given everything I can as a professional to this football club.
“The players showed great character to come back from the disappointment of conceding and, as I say, it’s a very fitting end to what has been an enjoyable time as manager of this club.”
All that sees Carlisle United currently residing in 9th position in the League 2 table ahead of the final game of the season, just three points ahead of the Exiles, although it appears that the Cumbrians have too superior a goal difference for County to leapfrog them even with a victory at Blundell Park.
The Cumbrians have a couple of injury concerns to contend with ahead of welcoming Newport County AFC to Brunton Park for the final fixture of the 2017/18 campaign.
One of those potential absentees could be striker Hallam Hope, after the 24-year old had to limp off the pitch last week having only just recovered from a previous injury complaint to come off the bench.
Carlisle manager Keith Curle said: “Another week of training would have been ideal, but he was desperate to play. He got what I would describe as a team goal and I know he’ll look after himself. We’re hoping it’s just a spasm and hopefully it will settle down.
“It was touch and go with how much time we gave him during the game, but he was desperate to play. It’s the same throughout the dressing room – don’t tell them there’s nothing to play for because they all want to be involved. It’s a great dressing room to be involved with.”
Midfielder Kelvin Etuhu has recently made a return to first-team training having been ruled out since February but was unable to recover and make the bench on Saturday, while the likes of ex-Exile Tom Miller, Kris Twardek and Reggie Lambe could have a role to play in the matchday squad.
Nicky Adams (knee) and Jason Kennedy (pelvis) are both long-term absentees.
The match at Port Vale last weekend was the first since Curle announced his intentions to leave the club at the end of the season, making two changes to his starting line-up as the 54-year old seeks to sign off his spell with the Cumbrians in appropriate fashion.
Carlisle United team vs Port Vale (4-4-2): Bonham, Grainger (C) (Hope 66’), Hill, Ellis, Liddle, Parkes, Campbell-Ryce (Bennett 45’), Joyce, Jones, Nadesan (O’Sullivan 78’), Devitt
One to Watch – Jamie Devitt
One of the starring lights in the Carlisle United team this season, Jamie Devitt finally looks like he is starting to establish himself as a Football League player.
The 27-year old has found the net on 10 occasions from 48 appearances in all competitions, being solely responsible for winning his side eight points throughout the entirety of the campaign.
The winger certainly likes to score the solitary goal in 1-0 victories for the Cumbrians, doing that on three occasions this term, as the side secured wins against Forest Green Rovers, Cheltenham Town and Colchester United.
Further goals from Devitt also come against Accrington Stanley, Mansfield Town, Notts County, Morecambe, twice against Wycombe Wanderers and also in the reverse fixture against Colchester United.
It is certainly a remarkable turnaround for the 27-year old in what is his second season with the Cumbrians, with the winger failing to find the net all season last year despite making a further 43 appearances.
Interestingly, Carlisle United are just the fourth permanent club of Devitt’s career – starting in the youth ranks at now Championship outfit Hull City.
He spent three spells on loan in League 2 with Darlington, Shrewsbury Town and Grimsby Town before officially making his debut with the Tigers – that coming on 7th August 2010 in a victory against Swansea City.
Devitt made 18 appearances for the club that season but never really held down a regular position in the starting line-up, spending the entirety of the 2011/12 campaign again out on loan.
In-fact, he spent the 2012/13 season on loan as-well, citing clubs including Accrington Stanley, Bradford City, Rotherham United and another stint at Grimsby in that time.
That saw the 27-year old sign permanently with Chesterfield upon his release from Hull, although he couldn’t settle down at the Proact Stadium too much better than his time with the Tigers.
Within six months he was sent on loan to Morecambe, a club who he then signed for ahead of the 2014/15 campaign.
He spent two permanent seasons with the club where he was finally able to put a succession of games together - making 98 appearances and scoring on 12 occasions - before his switch to Carlisle United ahead of the previous campaign.
All that sees Devitt prepare to welcome Newport County AFC to Brunton Park on Saturday with statistics of 26 goals across 261 competitive appearances.
Manager – Keith Curle
When Newport County AFC travel to Brunton Park on Saturday, it will be the final game in charge of the Cumbrians for manager Keith Curle, with the 54-year old recently announcing his intentions to leave the club at the end of the season to pursue other opportunities within football.
On his departure Curle said: “Being manager of this club has been massive for me. Being able to stabilise and improve a football club, from the position it was in, has been really enjoyable.
“A special mention has to go to the Paddock and our supporters. We’ve been on a journey and we’ve been on it together. We’ve had highs and lows, but they’ve conducted themselves exceptionally well and they’ve played their part in pushing us forward.
“This club is a challenge, but I have to say that I’ve enjoyed every single minute of the challenges I’ve faced with it. Some of the things I’ve had to deal with here have been a massive learning curve and that's going to help me as I look to further my career and as I strive for success elsewhere.”
That decision to leave the club brings an end to a four-year relationship between the club and Curle, with the 54-year old being in the dugout with the Brunton Park outfit since 19th September 2014 following the dismissal of Graham Kavanagh and an interim spell by Tony Caig.
The encounter with County will his 207th and final game in charge of the Cumbrians, with Curle currently holding onto a 38.3% win record since his appointment.
That sees the Cumbrians securing victories on 79 previous occasions, while they have been held to draws on a further 61 occasions alongside suffering 66 defeats.
His greatest success since being appointed at Carlisle United came last season, as he led the side to an unbeaten run in the first 15 games of the season – coincidentally suffering their first defeat at Rodney Parade – whilst finishing in the play-offs.
The Cumbrians were edged out at the semi-final stage, however, as Jack Stacey scored in stoppage time of the second leg to secure Exeter City a 6-5 victory on aggregate.
His spell in Cumbria is by far the longest of his managerial career to date, although they are the fifth permanent managerial position thus far.
That started with Mansfield Town in 2002 when Curle took the role on a player-manager basis. He couldn’t prevent the Stags getting relegated, however, although he almost secured an immediate return to the third tier – losing on penalties to Huddersfield Town in the play-off final.
He was dismissed from that role in December 2004 following a poor run of form, but he was able to hit the ground running at his next job when he was appointed as Chester City manager in May 2005.
They started the League 2 campaign brightly, before shocking Nottingham Forest by eliminating them in the Emirates FA Cup. That positive start didn’t last too much longer, however, as a run off 11 defeats from 12 matches cost him his job just nine months after his appointment.
Just under a year later, Curle returned to management when being chosen as head coach of Torquay United, one of his former clubs from his playing days.
He failed to save them from relegation during another short stint, however, with his contract until the end of the season not being renewed by the club.
On 20th February 2012, Curle finally made a return back into management when taking the hot seat at Notts County. He missed out on the play-offs via goal difference in the first few months of that spell, although was sacked just under a year after his appointment – joining Carlisle a few months later.
All that sees Curle with managerial statistics of 415 competitive fixtures – winning 155, drawing 112 and losing 148.
Prior to management, Curle had a highly successful playing career that spanned 24 years. He spent the majority of his time with Man City and Wolves, making over 150 appearances at both clubs as a defender. He scored 35 goals from 708 appearances throughout his career. Curle was also capped by England on three occasions.
Stadium – Brunton Park
Currently the largest stadium in the Football League that contains both seating and standing areas, Carlisle United have resided at Brunton Park since its inception in 1909. It is just their third permanent home since the club was officially formed in 1904, having previously spent time at Millholme Bank and Devonshire Park.
A friendly with Newcastle United was announced to unveil the new stadium on 2nd September 1909 and is just a small part of the history behind Brunton Park. The stadium was the first to host an FA Cup match between league clubs that was played under lights, although the Cumbrians were on the wrong end of a 3-1 defeat to Darlington on that occasion.
The current capacity of the stadium is 17,949 for Football League matches, although the record attendance for the stadium far exceeds that – with crowds of 27,500 being noted on two occasions in the FA Cup.
That first high attendance came on 5th January 1957 in a third-round tie against Birmingham City. The two sides played out an entertaining 3-3 draw in-front of the big crowd meaning the tie went to a replay, although Birmingham quite convincingly won that fixture just four days later with an emphatic 4-0 home success.
The other occasion for the high attendance came on 7th February 1970 – with this game a fifth-round tie with Middlesbrough. Again, the home fans had to home without seeing a victory, however, as the Cumbrians were condemned to a 2-1 defeat by the Teesside club.
Due to the precarious location of the stadium in Cumbria, Brunton Park is highly susceptible to flooding. It is estimated that the main club car park will fall foul of flood damage at-least once a season, while the main flood damage that also affected the stadium and the playing surface came in 2005 and 2015.
That saw the Cumbrians have to groundshare on several occasions, none more so than after the damage caused by Storm Desmond – where the side had to use Preston’s Deepdale, Blackburn’s Ewood Park and Blackpool’s Bloomfield Road within the space of a couple of months.
Away from football matches, Brunton Park has been used for various other events. In 1982, the stadium hosted a rugby league match between Cumbria and Australia. A crowd of 5,748 fans turned up on that occasion, although the Wallabies convincingly won that contest 41-2.
It also held a sell-out concert for Elton John in 2007, while interestingly, Brunton Park was selected as a filming location for the BBC Programme ‘United’ which focused on the 1958 Munich Air Disaster, owing to the fact that Brunton Park resembles a likeness to 1950s Old Trafford.
On matchday, Exiles fans will be located in the northern end of the East stand, which runs adjacent to one side of the pitch. Around 2,000 fans could theoretically be housed within this stand.
It will be the fourth time that the Exiles would have travelled to Cumbria for a League 2 contest with Carlisle United, following their relegation from the third tier in 2014.
The Exiles have a pretty good record at Brunton Park from those recent previous meetings, including the game on 29th November 2014 when goals from Yan Klukowski, Ismail Yakubu and Sean Jeffers secured a thrilling 3-2 victory.
A total of 133 County supporters were there on 26th September 2015 to see Tyler Blackwood score his only goal for the club in the 1-0 success, while 306 supporters made the long trip during the last campaign.
Mickey Demetriou’s powerful header had given the Exiles a half-time lead during that game on 29th April 2017 – a game in which had the Exiles won then they would have secured their Football League safety a week earlier.
It wasn’t meant to be, however, as goals from Jabo Ibehre and Nicky Adams turned the contest on its head – but that defeat for County only went to make the game with Notts County at Rodney Parade all the more memorable.
Last time out
Newport County AFC 3 – 3 Carlisle United
Saturday 9th December 2017
Matty Dolan scored two stunning second-half free-kicks as Newport County AFC and Carlisle United played out an entertaining 3-3 draw at Rodney Parade.
Somewhat surprisingly considering the amount of goals scored during the contest, only one of them came in the first-half.
And that strike came with realistically the best chance produced by either side in the opening 45 minutes, with Shawn McCoulsky scoring his ninth of the campaign to give the Exiles a lead at the break.
Dolan’s free-kick from out-wide caused massive confusion in the box and after Mickey Demetriou had done well to head the ball back into the area, McCoulsky nipped in front of his marker to loop a shot in off the crossbar.
Carlisle did create some chances themselves during that first-half of football at Rodney Parade, although were found wanting in the department of clinicality as Joe Day was only required to make easy saves.
Reggie Lambe should have done much better when put through clear on goal but only fired straight at the County shot stopper, while Kelvin Etuhu also failed to get any power behind what was at best a tame shot.
That lack of clinicality in-front of goal from the visitors must have made up part of manager Keith Curle’s half-time team talk – and the side must have listened as they found an equaliser within 50 seconds of the restart.
It was a carbon-copy of the goal that the Exiles had scored themselves earlier on in the contest, as this time ex-Exile Tom Miller’s delivery caused panic in the penalty area. The ball presented itself to Reggie Lambe who then had an attempt blocked on the line by Dan Butler, but it only delayed the inevitable as captain Luke Joyce stabbed in from close range.
That goal clearly gave the away side a lot of confidence as they had the lead by the time 53 minutes had elapsed on the scoreboard.
It was another free-kick from Miller that created the goal as it caused just as must confusion to the County defence as the first one did. The clearance from the Exiles wasn’t great, however, and Etuhu was there on the edge of the six-yard area to stab an effort past Day and into the bottom right corner.
The goals continued to flow at Rodney Parade and the Exiles were level on 55 minutes in what was the third goal in the first ten minutes of the second-half.
Dolan curled a delightful free-kick over the wall and into the bottom corner from 25 yards, ensuring every goal to this point was created at-least in part by a set-piece.
Carlisle weren’t going to let that stunning goal affect them for too long, however, and they re-took the lead after 63 minutes.
It of course came from a set-piece, this time Miller heading home at the second attempt after the corner-kick was originally blocked on the goal line by Demetriou.
It would certainly have been harsh on either side to lose the game in what was an exhilarating affair, with the Exiles confirming that the points would be shared on 70 minutes.
Dolan again curled a free-kick over the wall and into the back of the net to salvage a point, although it could have been all three but for a superb reaction save from Carlisle goalkeeper Jack Bonham to keep out a Butler volley with the last kick of the game.
Mike Flynn said of the six-goal thriller: “The disappointing thing is the goals we conceded but the positive is the fightback that my players showed today. I’m really frustrated because it’s two points dropped. When we went 2-1 down, they could have felt sorry for themselves and at 3-2 down a lot of teams would have folded. That’s the fightback that we are about and I’m just disappointed with the goals we conceded. Other than that, it was a fantastic performance.”
Carlisle manager Keith Curle added: “Obviously I’m frustrated because we did take the lead twice in the game. I don’t think we did enough in that first-half and I don’t think we kept the ball well enough. Newport are a physical team and they caused us problems – alongside two free-kicks that were right in the corner. Both teams were going for the win and it was a great game.”
Referee: Mark Heywood
Assistant Referee 1: Paul Newhouse
Assistant Referee 2: Helen Byrne
Fourth Official: Paul Hodskinson
Heywood is currently embarking on his 7th full season as a Football League referee having officiated his first game in League 2 on 6th August 2011 as Aldershot started the season off in the perfect manner by securing a 2-1 victory away at Bradford City.
He has refereed 27 matches already this season, of which the last came on 24th April 2018 as CheckaTrade Trophy finalists Shrewsbury Town boosted their play-off position whilst damaging the faint hopes of Peterborough United with a 3-1 home victory.
A total of four yellow cards were distributed by Heywood on that occasion at New Meadow, taking his season tally to 107 yellow cards and three red cards from the previous 27 matches. He has also awarded 14 penalties this season.
That follows on from refereeing a total of 36 games during the 2016/17 campaign, a season in which Heywood brandished 162 yellow cards and seven red cards throughout the entirety of the campaign.
Heywood has officiated a match involving Newport County AFC on ten previous occasions. He is certainly not the luckiest of omens for the Exiles, however, as the side have only managed to win one of those previous matches – losing on seven occasions and drawing twice.
He has already officiated the Exiles on one previous occasion this season, that coming on 30th September as Luton Town continued their good home form with a 3-1 success at Kenilworth Road.
Captain Joss Labadie grabbed a consolation in the second-half to ensure County didn’t return home empty-handed, although the points had already been secured by the home side following a free-kick from Alan Sheehan and a double from Danny Hylton in the opening 45 minutes.
Mark O’Brien and Ben White were booked for County on that occasion.
Heywood also officiated the Exiles on three occasions last season, the first of which came on 26th November 2016 as the Exiles suffered a 4-1 defeat at Blackpool.
Rhys Healey cancelled out an early effort from Brad Potts, although the Exiles couldn’t take the lead themselves shortly after the equaliser as Sean Rigg saw his penalty saved by Sam Slocombe.
That set the stage for Jack Payne, Isaac Vassell and Kelvin Mellor all to score and make it look like a convincing win for the Tangerines at Bloomfield Road, while the Exiles also picked up four yellow cards.
Jack Jebb, Josh Sheehan, Darren Jones and Mark Randall were all cautioned from a County perspective.
Next comes another defeat for the Exiles, this one the 3-2 reverse at Cambridge United on 18th February 2017.
Ryan Bird’s double had seemingly put the Exiles in cruise control at the Abbey Stadium, only for Barry Corr and Leon Legge to level proceedings with 20 minutes remaining. George Maris then saw his spot-kick saved in added time, only for Mark Roberts to bundle the ball home and steal the three points.
Mitch Rose was sent off in the build-up to that late penalty, while Bird and Mickey Demetriou were both cautioned by Heywood.
The final County game officiated by Heywood last season came on 22nd April 2017 as the Exiles halted Accrington Stanley’s 15-game unbeaten run with a 1-0 victory at Rodney Parade.
Ryan Bird scrambled home from close range to give County another vital three-point haul in the latter stages of the ‘Great Escape,’ while Mark O’Brien, Tom Owen-Evans and Sean Rigg were all booked during that nail-biting win.
During the 2015/16 campaign, Heywood was the man in the middle for two County matches, starting with the 0-0 stalemate with Yeovil Town on 21st November 2015. No bookings were awarded from that encounter with the Glovers.
The other game that season fell on 20th February 2016 as Scott Boden’s late header cancelled out an earlier effort from Jordan Tillson in the 1-1 draw at Exeter City. Two yellow cards were awarded to County players on that occasion – Dean Morgan and Andrew Hughes the offenders.
In the 2014/15 season, it took until the final day of the season for Heywood to officiate a match involving County – that coming on 2nd May 2015 during the 1-0 home defeat to Oxford United.
Interestingly, Mike Flynn was sent off in that game alongside further bookings for Miles Storey and Mark Byrne, while the U’s secured victory on that occasion through a simply stunning long-range effort from Kemar Roofe.
Two County matches were also presided over by Heywood in the 2013/14 campaign – the first season in which the Exiles had been back in the Football League since promotion.
The Exiles again lost both of the games, starting with the 3-1 defeat at Northampton Town on 10th August 2013 – County’s first away defeat since returning to the Football League.
No bookings were yielded from the contest, although Conor Washington’s late consolation was only in vain as the Cobblers had already stormed to victory thanks to goals from Jacob Blyth, Roy O’Donovan and Garry Deegan.
The other game that campaign came in the Emirates FA Cup second round defeat to Kidderminster Harriers on 7th December 2013.
Robbie Willmott scored twice to at-least give the travelling County fans something to cheer about, although the home side were already 4-0 up at that point following two-goal hauls for both Michael Gash and Callum Gittings.
Deji Oshilaja was the only player booked on that occasion.
That just leaves the only other County match officiated by Heywood – that again coming in a clash with Kidderminster Harriers on 8th December 2012.
An all-headed hat-trick from Jamille Matt was enough for the Harriers to secure a 3-2 home victory on that ocassion, while the County goals on that day came courtesy of Michael Smith and Lee Evans.
Other League 2 fixtures that day (All 3pm kick-offs)
Barnet vs Chesterfield
Cambridge United vs Port Vale
Coventry City vs Morecambe
Crewe Alexandra vs Cheltenham Town
Exeter City vs Colchester United
Forest Green Rovers vs Grimsby Town
Lincoln City vs Yeovil Town
Mansfield Town vs Crawley Town
Notts County vs Luton Town
Swindon Town vs Accrington Stanley
Wycombe Wanderers vs Stevenage
Can’t make the match?
You can follow along on social media using @NCAFCLive on Twitter, or via the Club’s official Facebook, Snapchat (OfficialExiles) and Instagram pages.
Don’t forget – if you reside outside of the UK, you can watch the game live by subscribing to County’s iFollow service. Commentary by Tim Thraves can also be found at the Match Centre from 2.45pm.
An on-the-whistle match report of this match will be provided on the Club website upon the end of the game. Michael Flynn’s post-match analysis will appear on the website the day after the game, while you can watch all of Flynn’s post-match press conference as-well as two County players by subscribing to iFollow Exiles.