The EFL League Two season kicks off this Saturday, 3 August 2019. In one of the week's marquee match-ups, Mansfield Town F.C. travels to Rodney Parade in Newport, Wales to face the team that ended their season last May, Newport County AFC. The two met in the semi-final round of the EFL playoffs last season, and the match up could not have been any closer, with both games level at the end of regulation. Newport needed penalty kicks to finally knock The Stags out of the tournament, before themselves being eliminated by Tranmere Rovers F.C. in the final. Considering that these were both playoff teams last season, and Newport came within a hummingbird's eyelash of promotion, I expect to see both clubs near the top of the table again this season. However, with well financed, Salford City F.C. and Leyton Orient F.C. joining the party this season, promotion places could be at a premium this year.
The Exiles of Newport County had one of those seasons last year that played out like a movie that you think is going to have a happy ending, and then all of a sudden a the very end there is a plot twist, and the ending isn't happy. After struggling in the bottom half of the table for a majority of the season, Newport finished on a late surge, and their 71 points were enough to grab the fourth and final playoff spot. The season also included a well documented "cinderella run" in the FA Cup. Mansfield was an almost opposite story, having started the season on a pace that looked like they might walk the league. Things turned sour down the stretch, but they were still strong enough to be in the running for an automatic promotion until the last day of the season, and tallied a solid 76 points. However, they lost their last 3 matches of the regular season to bottle the automatic promotion, and then were promptly eliminated in the opening round of the playoffs by Newport.
Scoring should not be a problem for The Exiles this year as they return forwards Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt, who each scored 14 goals last season in League Two play. The two have good chemistry and a complimentary style of play. In addition, both seem to have a knack for coming up with big goals at the right time. For The Stags, things are not quite as stable up front. Last season they were lead in scoring by Tyler Walker, a loanee from Nottingham Forest F.C., who's 22 goals were the second highest total in League Two last season. There was hope of bringing him back this season but reports are that it seems unlikely for him to be back. His replacement it appears will be Nicky Maynard, who last year lead Bury F.C. in scoring with 21 goals. The 32-year-old Maynard should be a suitable replacement for Walker, and was a lucky break for Mansfield, as he only became available due to Bury's financial struggles.
Newport County vs Mansfield Town Vital Information
This match can be viewed on iFollow in the United States, and in the UK. Saturday's match is at at 10:00 AM ET/3:00 PM GMT.
Referee assignments have James Adcock as the referee with Marvyn Amphlett and Ravel Cheosiaua as the assistants, and the fourth official is Dale Wootton.
This will be the 34th meeting all time between Newport County AFC and Mansfield Town F.C. In the previous 33 meetings, Mansfield has won 17 times, Newport County has won 9, and there have been 7 draws. It was Newport winning the most recent of those, in the second leg of last year's playoff semi-final. That game was 0-0 at the end of 120 minutes, and was eventually won by Newport in penalties (5-3) at Field Mill in Mansfield.
Five Points That Shouldn’t be Overlooked
Both of these clubs have played in EFL League Two since the 2013, when both were promoted from what was then known as Conference Premier (Now the National League). They have matched up a total of 14 time since then, with Mansfield winning 8, Newport winning 3, and 3 draws. Last season, these two clubs started the season against one another as well, exactly 364 days prior to this Saturday's match on 4 August 2018. That one was a 3-0 win by The Stags at Field Mill.
Speaking of that opening game last season, an interesting player to watch for Mansfield on Saturday, and possibly all season is Otis Khan. Interestingly enough, Khan scored two goals for Mansfield in that opening game against Newport last season. Those ended up being the only two goals he scored all year. The story is bigger than that though, as he was a regular starter early in the year, but by December was dropped to the bench and rarely used after that. In fact, he had only one start after December, and in that game was subbed out at halftime. Often times when a player falls out of favor like this, he finds himself at a different club the following season. Khan, however is back with Mansfield this year, appears to be back in the starting rotation and is looking to prove that he can return to his early season form from last year.
In addition to their returning strikers, Newport has looked to improve their defense and depth with their signings this offseason. Among their marquee additions is former West Bromwich Albion F.C. defender Kyle Howkins. The 23-year-old doesn't have a tremendous amount of senior experience, but has gotten a taste of action in various loan stints. Most recently he has played a combined 13 games over the past two seasons as a loanee with Port Vale F.C.. He is a player that The Exiles are extremely excited about signing, and a guy that their manager Michael Flynn says that he has had on his radar for over 2 years. Expect the Howkins will play a major role in their back four this season.
In addition to adding players to bolster the defense, Newport's most recent signing adds to their scoring depth. A team that operates on a thinner budget than most, their success in the FA Cup and playoff games last year generated some additional revenue that has allowed the team to be more aggressive in signing players than they have been able to be in the past. This week they added Tristan Abrahams, a 20-year-old striker, who Flynn had, had his eye on since he had played against Newport while at Leyton Orient (a match that was Abrahams's first senior appearance). Flynn is excited by his unique skill set that includes being a left footer shooter, and at 6 feet 1 inches tall can win challenges in front of the goal.
While Newport County has been adding depth and filling in holes, Mansfield's new manager John Dempster has had to overturn a good portion of his first string roster. A key newcomer is Kellan Gordon, a 21-year-old winger who was brought in on a two-year-deal after being released by Derby County F.C. He is a young player who is already experienced at the League Two tier, and is expected to be a key cog in The Stags retooled attack. Mansfield, and Dempster will be an interesting storyline to follow this season. He is just 36-years-old and played for the club himself as recently as 2015. He was named manager back in May when Dave Flitcroft was sacked following the playoff elimination. Dempster has brought in a lot of young players that he will need to pan out quickly, otherwise he might have to find himself lacing up his boots and to get on the pitch before the season is up.
Newport County vs Mansfield Town Prediction
These are two clubs who have had very different summers. Newport is a club that just seems to have a positive buzz around it after finishing last season as the hottest team in the league, and exceeding all expectations in the playoffs. Add to that the financial stability brought on by their unexpected run in the FA Cup, and an influx of young, talented players, it's an exciting time to be an a fan of The Exiles. Mansfield, on the other hand came into last year as a favorite, but folded down the stretch. That lead to them sacking their manager, and then they were not able to bring back their leading scorer as they had hoped. Not all is lost in Mansfield however, as Dempster seems to have made some savvy signings. Especially, managing to snag Maynard could turn out to be a season saving move. If Khan has a breakout year, or Gordon and their other signings turn out to be impact players, then they should be right in the thick of things this season again.
All of that is going to take time to mesh together though. Anytime a club has a roster full of fresh faces, and a new manager, it is a high probability that the first month or two of the season are going to be difficult. Add into that the fact that Rodney Parade, is one of the toughest places that you can travel to. Being that Newport plays on a shared rugby pitch there, you never know what kind of condition it is going to be in on a given match day. This is something Flynn's club is known for using to their advantage. I also expect this to be a physical game, and won't be surprised if there are a few bookings on each side. Last season, The Exiles traveled to Mansfield in the season opener, and returned to Wales with their tails between their legs, following a 3-0 defeat. One year later, the venue has been reversed, and I predict that the score will be as well.
Prediction – Newport County - 3 Mansfield Town - 0