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2016/17 - A Season in Review

The Exiles pull off the Greatest of Great Escapes

11 June 2017

The 2016/17 season had everything a County fan could want. It had drama, nerves, a rollercoaster of emotion that ultimately led to ecstasy when the Exiles secured their League 2 safety on the final day – just like Colin Addison’s men did 40 years ago.

Here, we look through the journey that Newport County AFC went on to set up ‘The Great Escape.’

 August - The beginning.

 Mansfield vs Newport County

Stoppage time heartache in the opening two fixtures at Rodney Parade saw County start the season with defeat to Mansfield Town and an EFL Cup exit at the hands of MK Dons. Those defeats were soon forgotten however, as County secured their first win from their first away exploits, Jamie Turley netting the winner at Leyton Orient.

Another defeat then followed, in controversial circumstances at Luton Town, before the Exiles steadied the ship with consecutive draws against Crewe and Hartlepool. The Exiles completed the opening month with defeat in the Checkatrade Trophy to Plymouth Argyle.

  

September - Warren Feeney leaves The Exiles

  

After September’s opening game with Barnet was abandoned at half-time, County secured a third straight league draw against rivals Cheltenham Town before that run was halted with defeat to Doncaster Rovers.

Then, after suffering another two defeats at home to Cambridge United and on the road at Grimsby Town, Warren Feeney left his position as Newport County manager.

  

October - Westley appointed as manager.

Temporary management were in the dugout for County’s first game of the month – a Checkatrade trophy defeat to Swansea that meant the Exiles were eliminated at the group stages.

Shortly after, Graham Westley was announced as Feeney’s successor but the deal wasn’t done in time for the Colchester game, which Westley watched from the stands as the Exiles battled to a 0-0 draw.

When Westley did take charge, things didn’t quite go to plan as County suffered defeats in his first two matches (Yeovil and Plymouth) before registering his first point in the rearranged 2-2 draw with Barnet at Rodney Parade.

County ended the month with Westley’s first victory – an impressive 3-1 triumph away at Accrington Stanley and a promise of better times ahead.

 

November - Three wins on the bounce sees The Exiles leave the drop zone.

Following an FA Cup draw at non-league Alfreton, County returned to winning ways in the Checkatrade trophy. However, the 2-0 win over AFC Wimbledon was not enough to see County through the group stages.

Then, the biggest shock of the league season so far. Previously unbeaten Carlisle United saw their run end with a 2-0 County victory, before brushing aside Alfreton to progress in the FA Cup.

A fourth victory in a row soon followed, with the 3-0 victory at Notts County seeing the Exiles move out of the drop zone.

That run then came to an end as Wycombe took all three points with a 90th minute winner, before a comprehensive 4-1 defeat at Blackpool saw the Exiles return to the foot of the table.

 

DECEMBER - Not a lot of Christmas Cheer

A rollercoaster December began at Plymouth in the FA Cup. A replay was required after a 0-0 draw.

Before the replay, County suffered two league defeats at home to Stevenage (2-0) and Crawley Town (3-1.) Those defeats came either side of the abandoned Morecambe game which County were leading 1-0 before the half-time postponement.

Then after FA Cup anguish in extra-time to Plymouth, County finished the month with a further two league defeats, both coming at Rodney Parade against Portsmouth and Exeter City.

 

JANUARY - All change. 13 new players join County.

 

January didn’t start too much better as County suffered consecutive away defeats to play-off chasing Wycombe and Stevenage.  However, January also sparked a time for change for the Club with 13 players joining including the man who'd captained the side as they fought their way back into the football League in 2013 - David Pipe.

It took some time for this brand new squad to bed-in but what came next was an impressive six game unbeaten run which began with a stalemate against Colchester before another draw at Barnet.

The Exiles would end the month with a first league victory since November, a 3-1 triumph over Dave Jones’ Hartlepool.  Hope was reignited. 

 

FEBRUARY - A month of last minute goals.

 

The Exiles would begin the month with a heart-stopping dramatic late equaliser at Cheltenham, before another two shutouts at Rodney Parade against Doncaster and Grimsby.

County’s unbeaten run was then ended at the Abbey Stadium, as Cambridge came-from-behind to sneak victory in the dying seconds.

Another draw would follow in the rearranged Morecambe game before County suffered further late heartache in defeat to Mansfield Town.

 

MARCH - A new beginning.

A comprehensive 4-0 home defeat to fellow strugglers Leyton Orient saw County cast 11 points adrift at the foot of the League 2 table with just 12 games to go.  Graham Westley was relieved of his duties as manager.

Hometown-hero Michael Flynn soon took charge set with the seemingly impossible task of keeping Newport County in the Football League.

But two successive victories on the road at Crewe and Morecambe saw the spirit return to South Wales. The latter of those victories seeing County leapfrog Leyton Orient in the table.

Flynn’s first defeat then came at the hands of Blackpool in his first home game, before a draw with Luton saw County cut the gap on safety to just six points. County ended the month with defeat to eventual champions Portsmouth at Fratton Park.

 

APRIL - Four 1-0 wins see County scrap their way out of the relegation zone.

 

April would see three consecutive 1-0 wins for County. April's League 2 Player of the Month, Mickey Demetriou, would net his first and second County goals in back-to-back home wins against Crawley Town and Yeovil Town. Sandwiched between that, Tom Owen-Evans finally opened his County account with the winner at Exeter City.

The winning run was then halted in heartbreaking style with a 6-1 thumping at Plymouth.  The Exiles were not going to spoil the Plymouth Promotion Party as the victory saw The Pilgrims secure promotion to League 1.

County returned to winning ways with yet another 1-0 victory, Ryan Bird’s winner against Accrington seeing County get out of the relegation zone for the first time since November 19th.

County ended the month with the long trip to Carlisle United knowing a victory may be enough to secure their safety with a game to spare.  However, the home side secured a 2-1 victory meaning it would go right down to the wire on the final day.

 

MAY - The Great Escape

What more needs to written about County’s only game of the month on May 6th. A sell-out County crowd packed into Rodney Parade knowing victory would definitely be enough to secure survival. And it got off to a flyer as Demetriou gave County the lead midway through the first-half from the penalty-spot.

All seemed to be going to plan with Doncaster also one-up at half time.  But when Notts County's Jorge Grant levelled the scoring, it all started to go wrong for The Exiles.  News filtered through that Hartlepool were doing what had been deemed impossible and were leading against Doncaster.

A goal was needed or County would be relegated and the months of hardwork to close the gap would come to nothing.  When all hope was lost, the much-needed goal came from the unlikeliest of sources; a centreback who'd never scored a league goal.

The 89th minute breakthrough came in the form of a clinical Mark O’Brien volley. Cue ecstasy in the terraces as County had done the impossible, ‘The Great Escape’ was complete as safety was secured. The perfect end to the season.

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