Newport County AFC will be looking for their first victory of the season when they welcome early pace setters Crewe Alexandra to Rodney Parade on Saturday. The Exiles will also be searching for their first home Football League success over the visitors since 1978, while the Railwaymen will be looking to build on the emphatic victory secured on the opening day.
Here, find out all the facts and statistics ahead of this League Two encounter.
Opening day and pre-season results
If there was ever a way to establish yourself as a contender in League Two after the opening fixture, then a 6-0 home victory will certainly go some way towards helping Crewe Alexandra have that impact.
Two goals from Alex Nicholls and James Jones sandwiched in between strikes from Charlie Kirk and Chris Porter saw Crewe inflict Morecambe’s worst ever opening day defeat in their history.
The result came as somewhat of a surprise from the Cheshire outfit after a relatively low-key pre-season schedule.
Following a behind-closed-doors game against Wigan Athletic, the Railwaymen secured a narrow 1-0 victory over Nantwich Town thanks to a goal from Jordan Bowery.
Those results were followed by a 2-1 success at Colwyn Bay, a 1-0 defeat at National League Barrow and another 2-1 victory at Kidsgrove Athletic.
They finally started to get into the extra gears when seeing off Altrincham 3-0 but weren’t able to build on that when a Crewe XI drew 1-1 with Leek Town. The Railwaymen concluded pre-season with a draw at home to Blackpool – Alex Nicholls the scorer.
Summer Incomings / Outgoings
Crewe Alexandra have had a relatively quiet summer transfer window to date as manager David Artell looks to keep the majority of his squad together.
They have, however, bolstered the squad with four new additions.
That starts with the arrival of midfielder Paul Green. The 35-year old played at Gresty Road for a significant part of last season and re-joins following his release from fellow League 2 outfit Oldham Athletic.
In-fact, all their summer arrivals have come in from sides either in League Two last season or this season, including striker Shaun Miller who re-joins the club from Carlisle United.
Winger Alex Nicholls has also joined up with the squad ahead of the new season having left relegated Barnet, while their summer incomings are completed by the arrival of Nicky Hunt, following his release from Notts County.
In terms of outgoings, the most surprising one was striker Chris Dagnall. The 32-year old had been struggling with injuries towards the back end of last season, and joined Bury FC immediately after his release from the Cheshire side.
Zoumana Bakayogo, George Nunn, Daniel Udoh and Ross Woodcock have all also left the club.
The Railwaymen have a couple of injury headaches to contend with before making the trip to Rodney Parade.
Club captain George Ray is currently in a race against time to be fit for the encounter, having been substituted on the weekend following taking a knock to the ribs.
Crewe manager David Artell said: "He [George] got a bang in his ribs at the back, we'll have to see how he is come the weekend. We'll wrap him up in cotton wool, he's got a bit of bruising, but he should be alright. We don't know yet, it will be touch & go.
"If he's fit, he's fit. If he's not, he's not. It's no big deal either way. It's a long season with a lot of games to get through."
The only other absentee from his 29-man squad is striker Shaun Miller, who missed the game last week with a suspected knee injury.
Therefore, it is expected that Artell will keep to the same squad as last weekend should his club captain be fit to continue.
Crewe team vs Morecambe (4-4-2): Richards, Ng, Ray (Hunt 29’), Nolan, Pickering, Jones, Green, Wintle, Kirk (Ainley 75’), Nicholls (Porter 75’), Bowery
One to Watch – Alex Nicholls
If you asked any footballer to describe what they would consider to be a ‘dream debut’ then you would imagine scoring twice in a 6-0 home victory would be right at the top.
That’s what 30-year old Alex Nicholls managed to achieve last weekend in the Railwaymen’s emphatic success over Morecambe.
They say revenge is a dish best served cold and that can certainly be used here – after Nicholls’ former employers Barnet were relegated on goal difference last season after the Shrimps survived with a draw at Coventry City.
Of all the players involved in that Barnet squad last season, Nicholls was probably the unluckiest as he hit a real rich vein of form towards the end of the campaign when doing everything to keep his side in the Football League.
Out of the eight goals he scored during the season, seven of them came after February and accrued his side an impressive 14 points.
After the Bees beat County at the Hive in April, they had to travel to Morecambe knowing only a win would take their chances of survival to the final day. Up popped Nicholls with a late winner, although even another goal the following week couldn’t keep the Bees up.
His other strikes came in the 1-1 draws with Accrington Stanley and Port Vale, alongside netting the winners in contests with Forest Green Rovers, Notts County, Colchester United and Tottenham Hotspur U23s.
This current spell with Crewe Alexandra is the fifth club of the winger’s career, which started at West Midlands outfit Walsall.
After impressing in the academy and then the reserve side, Nicholls made his professional debut in December 2005 during an Emirates FA Cup clash with Yeovil Town, the first of 13 appearances he made in total that season.
Nicholls broke his leg during the latter part of that campaign, a season in which the Saddlers were relegated into League 2, meaning the 30-year old virtually missed the next season through injury.
He did, however, manage a short loan stint at Burton Albion whilst trying to regain his fitness. Nicholls made 14 appearances with the Brewers, although couldn’t find the target either home or away.
Walsall were promoted back into League 1 during Nicholls’ absence, but it didn’t take him long to get back accustomed with the side – scoring his first Football League goal on 8th January 2008 at Yeovil Town.
He stayed with the Midlands outfit for a further four seasons before deciding to leave on a free transfer and join Northampton Town, departing the Saddlers having scored on 28 occasions from 219 appearances.
After an impressive start, his first season was once again cut short after breaking his leg for the second time in his career.
He missed the following campaign with that injury and didn’t find it easy to integrate himself back into the team upon his return, so the winger joined Exeter City on loan twice during the 2014/15 season.
One goal in 13 appearances was enough to tempt the Grecians into making the arrangement permanent, Nicholls leaving Northampton in January 2015 after scoring nine goals in just 29 appearances.
He spent one and a half seasons as a permanent fixture with the club and scored 12 goals from 61 appearances before his departure, joining Barnet ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.
A loan spell with Dundee United was also completed during the second part of that season after failing to hold down a consistent place in the side, although it wasn’t all doom and gloom for Nicholls as he won the Scottish Challenge Cup during that stint.
Manager – David Artell
Since taking over in the hot seat of the Cheshire outfit, David Artell has slowly but surely been ascending the club further and further up the table every season.
Joining the club initially in July 2014 as Academy operations manager – a role he twinned whilst playing for Bala Town – Artell clearly impressed and was appointed as first-team manager on 8th January 2017 with the club dangling precariously over the drop-zone in League Two.
After warning his players that relegation would result in them “ending up in the Conference North on £200 a week with a job as a milkman,” the squad regrouped and four wins from five in March moved them up to mid-table.
He led the Railwaymen to an eventual 17th place finish in his first-half season with the club, warning his players that he would not be happy if they were to finish in that position again during his first full-season in charge.
It appears that the players didn’t quite get the memo to start off the 2017/18 campaign, however, and could be found in 22nd place during November, although did regroup come the end of the campaign and finished in 15th place having accumulated 56 points.
Artell will also be proud of what he managed to achieve on 5th May 2018. With a good league position assured, the 37-year old selected a side on the final day against Cheltenham Town that was composed entirely out of players who had graduated from the Crewe academy earlier in their career.
Reflecting on that momentous occasion after the side secured a 2-1 victory against the Robins, Artell reflected: “It is what this football club is about. It is diminished if you don’t win the game but that’s the second time we have done it and the second time we have won.
“You don’t get that at any other football club and it is a hard thing to achieve in the modern era. I am not sure that it has been done ever and we have done it twice.”
Meetings between the two clubs in the 2017/18 campaign
Goals from both sides in both meetings, but unfortunately for County only one point could be achieved across those matches following an away draw and a home defeat.
After the Railwaymen agreed to reverse the fixtures following County receiving special dispensation from the EFL to start the season away, the two sides met at Gresty Road on 12th August 2017.
And the Exiles started almost as quickly as the trains driving mere yards away from the stadium, Frank Nouble slotting home on 12 minutes after home goalkeeper Ben Garratt had made two point-blank saves to initially keep the Exiles out.
Perry NG was then dismissed for a second-bookable offence after just 17 minutes, but the home side weren’t about to fold having gone down to ten men and levelled a minute after the sending off, George Cooper’s drilled cross being poked home by Chris Dagnall.
That concluded the scoring as the two sides played out the 1-1 draw, but it wasn’t for the want of trying from both teams as they searched in vain for a winner.
Ben White had to block Chris Porter’s attempt off the line and divert it against his own post to clear in first-half stoppage time, before Lamar Reynolds twice had efforts hooked away from the goalmouth in the second-half.
When the sides met to do battle again at Rodney Parade on 24th March 2018, Crewe Alexandra became just one of four sides to secure all three points in South Wales from a League Two encounter.
After some initial good-work from County to start proceedings, the away side struck a sucker punch to the Exiles when finding the net with their first realistic sight at goal.
On loan Aston Villa striker Harry McKirdy did well to come out the better of an aerial challenge with Mickey Demetriou, calmly dispatching a shot into the bottom corner following 26 minutes of football.
In the second-half, that lead became two for the away side as fellow attacker Jordan Bowery finished from close range after Charlie Kirk had initially been denied by a combination of the post and Joe Day.
County did find a way back into the contest with nine minutes remaining when Mickey Demetriou rose highest to head home a Robbie Willmott corner-kick, but despite their best efforts the Exiles couldn’t find an equaliser as the away side held on for victory.
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Assistant Referee 1: Christopher Husband
Assistant Referee 2: Gareth Viccars
Fourth Official: Craig Taylor
Huxtable is currently embarking on just his third season as a Football League referee having officiated his first game in League Two on 13th August 2016 as promotion bound Doncaster Rovers drew 1-1 with Crawley Town.
He is yet to referee a match in the 2018/19 campaign, although was fourth official last weekend as Middlesbrough staged a late comeback to salvage a draw at the Den in the 2-2 draw with Millwall in the Championship.
That means he will be taking charge of his first match this season at Rodney Parade, although is highly experienced at this level following his exploits in the last two years.
In the 2016/17 season, Huxtable awarded 140 yellow cards and five red cards from his 39 matches, whilst 136 yellow cards and seven red cards were brandished in the 37 matches he presided over in the last campaign.
Huxtable has refereed Newport County AFC matches on ten previous occasions across League Two, the Conference, the FA Trophy and the CheckaTrade Trophy. The Exiles have a mixed bag of results from the previous matches officiated by Huxtable – following three wins, two draws and five defeats.
That includes being the man in the middle for three County matches last season, the most recent of which was the 0-0 draw with Lincoln City on 23rd December 2017. Mark O’Brien was given his marching orders in that game, whilst captain Joss Labadie also picked up a caution.
He also refereed two of the CheckaTrade Trophy encounters last season. Tom Owen-Evans was booked in both – the 2-0 defeat to Forest Green Rovers and 2-1 reverse to Swansea City U23s – whilst Robbie Willmott was also cautioned against the Young Swans.
In the 2016/17 campaign, Huxtable again took charge of three matches involving the Exiles.
He coincidentally officiated the tie with Swansea City U23s – again the same 2-1 scoreline at Rodney Parade on 4th October 2016 – with Mark Randall and Jazzi Barnum-Bobb this time booked.
Huxtable then refereed the 4-1 victory over Alfreton Town in the Emirates FA Cup – goals from Rhys Healey, Jordan Green, Josh Sheehan and Barnum-Bobb sealing a comfortable win. Sheehan also found himself cautioned in one of three bookings on the night.
The final game that season came in Mike Flynn’s first ever home game in charge of the Exiles – against Blackpool on 18th March 2017. Three County players were booked in the 3-1 defeat – namely David Pipe, Dan Butler and Scot Bennett.
There is then a couple of years break between County matches presided over by Huxtable, although again it was three matches in the 2012/13 promotion season.
The first came in County’s first ever competitive fixture at Rodney Parade – goals from Jefferson Louis, Lee Evans and two from Aaron O’Connor seeing them to success over Nuneaton Town.
Next comes the 3-2 home defeat to Woking on 27th October 2012 and the 4-1 victory over Macclesfield Town on 11th April 2018. No yellow cards were given to any County players in either fixture.
Finally, Huxtable also officiated a County game in the 2010/11 season. That came on 11th December 2010 as the Exiles were held to a 0-0 draw in the FA Trophy by Wealdstone. No bookings were awarded to either side.
Other League Two fixtures that day (All 3pm kick-offs)
Cambridge United vs Notts County
Carlisle United vs Northampton Town
Colchester United vs Port Vale
Crawley Town vs Stevenage
Forest Green Rovers vs Oldham Athletic
Lincoln City vs Swindon Town
Macclesfield Town vs Grimsby Town
Milton Keynes Dons vs Bury
Morecambe vs Exeter City
Tranmere Rovers vs Cheltenham Town
Yeovil Town vs Mansfield Town
Can’t make the match?
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 Charlie Brown and Richard Shepherd 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 #iFollowExiles.