This coming Saturday, Newport County and Mansfield Town will go head to head for the first time since they both gained promotion from The Conference into League Two. It has all the ingredients to be one of the games of the week, not just in League Two but in the whole of the Football League. Newport came out on top in both matches last season, winning 2-0 at home and 4-3 away and this season, after five games, the teams are level on points which whets the appetite even further ahead of this clash.
Mansfield Town have enjoyed a very good start to their campaign, after five seasons away from The Football League. After losing their first game of the season away to Scunthorpe and being knocked out of the Capital One Cup by Tranmere, ‘The Stags’ earned their first point of the season after a battling 0-0 draw at home to Exeter. They went on to snatch a late winner as they saw off Wycombe at Adams Park before staging a comeback to draw 2-2 at home to Portsmouth, after being 2-1 down. Their finest moment of the season, so far, came in their latest game, after they thrashed Dagenham & Redbridge 3-0, thanks to goals from Sam Clucas, Jamie McGuire and Matt Rhead, to earn their first home win of the season.
Any success Mansfield have this season will be built upon a defence which boasts experience and strength in abundance. Summer signing John McCombe made nearly 200 appearances for Port Vale and knows the lower leagues well and alongside him is Lee Beevers who played over 150 times for Lincoln City and has played in League One for Colchester United. Goalkeeper Alan Marriot, a Lincoln City legend, has played in the lower leagues for over a decade and has made nearly 200 appearances for Mansfield.
If Mansfield are pleased with their start then Newport County are in dreamland. They kicked off their return to the Football League with a 4-1 annihilation of Accrington Stanley before recording a strong victory over Championship side Brighton 3-1 in the Capital One Cup. Their first away game of the season ended in a 3-1 defeat to Northampton but they secured a narrow 1-0 win over Bristol Rovers at Rodney Parade before gaining a point away to Dagenham & Redbridge. They were defeated by Premier League West Brom in the 2nd round of the Cup but bounced back with a solid 1-1 draw away at Scunthorpe United.
Newport County’s main strengths lie in their attacking threat. Chris Zebroski and Danny Crow have good lower league scoring records, and are both off the mark this season, whilst Aaron O’Connor, who scored Newport’s second goal in the play-off final victory over Wrexham, is an experienced goal scorer in the Conference. Young striker Conor Washington has started the season on fire scoring against Brighton and Northampton, as has Christian Jolley who scored 15 goals in 46 appearances last term. If all four forwards can score consistently this season, Newport could be in for a very exciting season. To ensure goals are not scored freely at both ends, Newport have signed Derby County defender Tom Naylor on loan to add to the already solid defensive set-up which includes goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley, left-back Andy Sandell and centre-back Harry Worley.
Despite registering a comfortable win against Dagenham, Mansfield will find it tough to continue this form at Rodney Parade. Newport had an extremely strong home record last season, winning 13 of 23 matches in front of their own fans, and they have a 100% record there so far this season. Mansfield had a very strong away record last season on their way to winning The Conference however in the last six league meetings between the two clubs Newport have won four, including three at home.
If Newport win, which I believe they will do, the victory will cap off an extremely good start for the Welsh club and continue to help build the framework for what promises to be an unforgettable campaign.