Newport County AFC will end a run of three successive home matches when play-off occupying Coventry City head to Rodney Parade on Friday afternoon. The Exiles will be looking to bounce back from just their third home league defeat of the season against Crewe Alexandra last time out, while the Sky Blues will travel down determined to keep up their good run of form that sees them with a realistic chance of an automatic promotion place come the end of the season.
Tickets are still available for this Good Friday fixture and here, you can find all the facts and statistics ahead of this League 2 encounter.
Last Six League Matches
Coventry City head to Rodney Parade as one of the form sides in the division having won four and drawn two of their last six League Two matches.
Only Accrington Stanley (five wins and a draw) have a better record from their last six matches, as the Sky Blues have really put themselves back into contention for a play-off spot at the end of the season and potentially even an automatic promotion place.
That good run of form since 24th February starts with an impressive 1-1 draw at fellow play-off hopefuls Mansfield Town.
The Sky Blues certainly had to get a share of the spoils the hard way as Jordan Willis was sent off before they fell behind just two minutes later as Kane Hemmings found the net. They fought back into the match, however, despite spending 76 minutes of the game with ten men and found their equaliser through a penalty from Jonson Clarke-Harris 12 minutes from time.
Despite the apparent good run of form, the 1-0 victory over another play-off contender in Wycombe Wanderers was actually their first in five League 2 matches.
It was another penalty that secured them the three points at Adams Park, Marc McNulty this time stepping up before sending a thunderous effort into the back of the net directly in-front of the away supporters.
That became back-to-back wins as they secured a hard-fought 1-0 victory over struggling Barnet at the Ricoh Arena.
Clarke-Harris struck with 15 minutes remaining to get them over the line against Graham Westley’s side, a victory that left the Sky Blues outside of the play-offs just on goal difference but with a game in hand.
And Coventry ascended into the League 2 top-seven with a point during that game in hand, although they will wonder how it wasn’t all three after surrendering a lead against Luton Town in a 2-2 draw.
Peter Vincenti opened the scoring after just three minutes with a reactive tap-in, before McNulty doubled the advantage on the stroke of half-time with an inch-perfect free-kick.
But the Hatters were intent on closing the gap to league leaders Accrington Stanley and fought back resiliently in the second-half. Scott Cuthbert headed home midway into the second-half, with James Collins completing the comeback two minutes from time.
The Sky Blues returned to winning ways in their next match, however, securing a narrow 2-1 victory against a resurgent Crewe Alexandra side.
Clarke-Harris found the net yet again just five minutes into the contest at Gresty Road, only for Jordan Bowery to level proceedings with a smart finish. Tom Bayliss grabbed the winner just before half-time, a result that consolidated Coventry’s place in the play-off positions.
In their most recent match, they also secured a victory, this one coming in a 4-0 triumph at home to struggling Grimsby Town.
Vincenti scored the only goal of the first-half with a towering header, before McNulty scored his first hat-trick for the Sky Blues when finding the net three times in the second-half.
That left the Mariners winless in 18 League 2 matches and fighting for their lives at the bottom of the table, while Coventry remained in 6th place ahead of their trip to Rodney Parade, three points clear in the play-off positions but just six points off the automatic spots and with a game in hand on Wycombe Wanderers.
The Sky Blues have a couple of injury concerns to contend with before their trip to South Wales, although they may be able to welcome some of those players back for the fixture.
Carl Baker may make his first appearance for the club since re-joining during the January window, with the attacking midfielder having overcome an ankle injury.
Defender Tom Davies may also be ready to return back into the first-team fold, having missed the last month with the broken collarbone sustained in the defeat at Forest Green Rovers.
Fellow defender Jordan Willis is still a few weeks away from returning, while winger Jodi Jones has already been ruled out for the entirety of the season having suffered an anterior-cruciate-ligament (ACL) injury in November’s clash with Stevenage.
Midfielder Tony Andreu can also be considered as a long-term injury absentee having also sustained an ACL problem earlier this season.
All those injury concerns saw manager Mark Robins make one change to the starting team against Crewe for last week’s tie with Grimsby Town, goalkeeper Lee Burge able to return, although it is expected that the Sky Blues will keep with that same starting team despite having a couple of players back and ready to return.
Coventry team vs Grimsby (4-4-2): Burge, Grimmer, Hyam, McDonald, Haynes, Vincenti (Reid 74’), Bayliss (Kelly 73’), Doyle (C), Shipley, McNulty, Clarke-Harris (Biamou 77’)
One to Watch – Marc McNulty
Marc McNulty has been one of the key reasons for Coventry City making their way back into League 2 play-off contention of late.
The 25-year old is on by-far his best goal scoring return for a season and currently sits joint third in the League 2 scoring charts with 18 goals. Those goals come at a ratio of every 153 minutes, the second best in the division behind Luton Town attacker James Collins, who scores every 151 minutes in the fourth-tier.
One of the key attributes about the striker is that those goals have been spread across the season, with McNulty scoring the 18 goals across 14 different matches.
He has scored one hat-trick this season, that coming last time out at home to Grimsby Town, while netting a double on two occasions at the Ricoh Arena – against Swindon Town and Wycombe Wanderers.
McNulty has also scored against Grimsby Town, Stevenage, Crawley Town, Cheltenham Town, Carlisle United, Chesterfield, Forest Green Rovers, Wycombe Wanderers and home and away against Luton Town.
The 25-year old has also found the net on three occasions in the cup competitions - against Boreham Wood, Walsall and Shrewsbury, meaning he has 21 goals to his name this season with eight matches remaining.
That is an unbelievable return for his first season with the Sky Blues, in what is just his second season in League 2, having played the majority of his early career in his native Scotland.
McNulty spent five years in the youth system of Hutchinson Vale, before attracting the attention of high-flying Celtic. A move into the Hibernian academy then came before being released at the age of 16 without a schoolboy contract.
He bounced back from that rejection by signing for Livingston, scoring on his debut for the first-team against Montrose when coming on as a late substitute on 31st October 2009.
The 2011/12 campaign was one of his best in the colours of the Lions, his 16 goals in the Scottish First Division attracting the attention of some high-profile Championship clubs.
He stayed for a further two seasons in Scotland before eventually making the jump into the English second division, moving to Sheffield United for a reported fee of £100,000, leaving Livingston after scoring 48 goals from 122 appearances.
McNulty scored his first competitive goal for the Blades against Mansfield Town in a League Cup success on 13th August 2014. He would later score the winner at the quarter-final stage against Southampton, before they suffered defeat over two legs in the semi final against eventual winners Tottenham Hotspur.
But the 25-year old couldn’t really hit that same form in the next two seasons that followed, spending the majority of that time away from the club and on loan at Portsmouth then Bradford City.
That sees McNulty head to Rodney Parade with career statistics of 94 goals from 269 appearances, while he is still awaiting his first trophy in professional football.
Last time out
Coventry City 0 – 1 Newport County AFC
Saturday 19th August 2017
Newport County AFC secured their first win of the League 2 season whilst also ensuring they remained unbeaten in matches from all competitions as they shocked Coventry City by securing a 1-0 victory at the Ricoh Arena.
The Exiles certainly set the tempo early in the contest and they could have been in-front after only four minutes, although Mark O’Brien miscued a volleyed opportunity that sailed over the crossbar.
The Irishman almost turned provided right on the quarter-of-an-hour mark, flashing a header across the danger area that only needed a touch from a County player to open the scoring.
All the opportunities were falling the way of the away side as County continued to assert some authority onto proceedings, debutant Reece Cole unfortunate to see his cross-shot deflected onto the post by Jordan Willis.
Another Exiles debutant in Joe Quigley was next to be foiled by Coventry goalkeeper Liam O’Brien, who raced off his line to beat the striker to the ball after a splitting pass from Matty Dolan.
It took until the end of the two minutes additional time for the home side to fashion their first real chance of any note and they almost took the lead from it.
Jodi Jones and Marc McNulty both combined well before fizzing a curled delivery towards the far-post. The 6’2” frame of Peter Vincenti rose highest to knock the ball down for an unmarked Stuart Beavon just two yards out, only for Joe Day to get down well and make two point-blank range saves to keep the score level at half-time.
The Exiles started the second-half in the same dominating fashion as the first-half and they took a deserved lead after 53 minutes.
Ben White launched a hopeful clearance into the path of Cole, who tried his luck optimistically from 25 yards. The bounce on the ball caused O’Brien all manner of problems in the Coventry goal, with the ball squirming underneath the shot stopper on its way over the line.
That opening goal clearly sparked the home side into action and it took another stunning save from Day to repel a curling effort from substitute Ben Stevenson on 65 minutes.
County substitute Lamar Reynolds almost doubled the County advantage with ten minutes to go following a quick counter-attack, although could only fire into the side netting after waltzing his way past three challenges and into the area.
Maxime Biamou and Jones both came close late-on as Coventry searched for a late equaliser, but the Sky Blues couldn’t find one as the Exiles held on for their first league victory of the season, the perfect result for the 908 away supporters who made the trip to the Ricoh Arena.
Mike Flynn said of the first league victory this season: “It was very pleasing. The fans were amazing – nearly a 1,000-people travelling on a fourth away game is superb. They were the loudest in the stadium and long may it continue. It’s been a lovely week – that win was for my wife and my new little boy Samuel, so I’d like to thank the players for putting in the performance that they did and putting that smile on my face.”
Coventry City manager Mark Robins added: “It was frustrating, but we just lacked conviction.The passing wasn't good enough and we gave the ball away too much. We have had an off day and we've given them the game, so we have to learn from it. Credit to Newport they worked hard and put us on the back foot a little bit, but we shouldn't have allowed that. Mentally we are normally better than that and we can't expect to turn up and just get a result.”
Referee: Dean Whitestone
Assistant Referee 1: Andrew Williams
Assistant Referee 2: Christopher Kidd
Fourth Official: Mark Derrien
Whitestone is currently embarking on his 12th season as a Football League referee, although he has officiated a number of high profile Championship and Emirates FA Cup matches in that time.
That means his first game in League 2 came on 22nd October 2005 as Notts County and Carlisle United played out a 0-0 draw in Nottinghamshire.
He has refereed 32 games already this season, the last of which came on 20th March when Exeter City strengthened their grip on a play-off place in League 2 by beating struggling Port Vale 1-0 away from home.
Only the one yellow card was produced at Vale Park, taking his season tally to 84 yellow cards and three red cards from the previous matches.
Those statistics follow on from the 119 yellow cards and three red cards that Whitestone brandished from 43 matches last season, one of which was the second leg of the League 2 play-off semi-final between Exeter City and Carlisle United.
Whitestone has refereed a match involving Newport County AFC on seven previous occasions, three of which have come at Rodney Parade. He is not the luckiest of omens for the Exiles, however, as the side have only won two of the previous matches officiated by Whitestone.
The game with Coventry City will be the first time he has refereed the Exiles this season, although he did referee three matches involving County last season.
That means the most recent County game that Whitestone has refereed came during the latter stages of the ‘Great Escape’ as County closed the gap on Hartlepool United to just one point with four matches remaining following a 1-0 victory over Yeovil Town.
A free-kick from Mickey Demetriou was enough to see off the Glovers at Rodney Parade on 14th April 2017, a match in which Mark Randall received a yellow card.
Whitestone was also the man in the middle when County missed out on the chance of a dream trip to Anfield thanks to a 1-0 defeat to Plymouth Argyle in the Emirates FA Cup second-round replay at Rodney Parade on 21st December 2016.
Graham Carey converted a penalty deep into injury time to send the Pilgrims into the third round, one of two spot-kicks awarded by Whitestone during the game, the other being missed by Paul Garita.
One yellow card apiece from this match – Darren Jones for County and Sonny Bradley for Plymouth.
The other match in the 2016/17 season came on 15th October 2016 as Graham Westley celebrated his first game in-charge of the Exiles with a 1-0 defeat at Yeovil Town. Dan Butler’s own-goal nine minutes from time was enough to give the Glovers all three points, while Jon Parkin was the only player booked from either side at Huish Park.
Whitestone officiated two County games in the 2015/16 season, the first of which came on 3rd October 2015 in John Sheridan’s first game in-charge of the Exiles.
Lenell John-Lewis cancelled out Joel Grant’s strike in a 1-1 draw with Exeter City, a game where the Exiles didn’t receive a single booking.
The other game that season came in the Emirates FA Cup as the Exiles reached the third-round with a 1-0 away victory at Barnet on 5th December 2015. Scott Boden’s second-half header went on to set up a home tie with Blackburn Rovers, while Matt Partridge was the only player booked from a County perspective.
Whitestone refereed just one County game in 2014/15, that coming on 7th February 2015 as the Exiles suffered a 2-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon thanks to a double from Adebayo Akinfenwa. Kevin Feely was dismissed in the second-half of the match, alongside cautions for Max Porter and Darren Jones.
That just leaves the first Newport County AFC match to have been officiated by Whitestone.
It came during the Exiles first season back in the Football League, arguably the most exciting match of the ones refereed by Whitestone, a six-goal thriller with Accrington Stanley on 11th January 2014.
Lee Minshull struck in added time to salvage a point for County on that occasion, while Robbie Willmott scored a free-kick and Ryan Burge netted a long-range effort.
David Pipe and Rene Howe were both booked from a County perspective at the Wham Stadium.
Other League 2 fixtures that day (All 3pm kick-offs)
Barnet vs Crewe Alexandra
Cambridge United vs Crawley Town
Cheltenham Town vs Carlisle United
Colchester United vs Luton Town
Grimsby Town vs Stevenage
Lincoln City vs Exeter City
Mansfield Town vs Accrington Stanley
Notts County vs Wycombe Wanderers
Port Vale vs Chesterfield
Swindon Town vs Morecambe
Yeovil Town vs Forest Green Rovers
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 Charlie Brown 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.