Newport County 1 Blackburn Rovers 2
Byrne (30) Marshall (8, pen), Rhodes (75)
FACup 3rd Round
5,083 (Backburn 559)
Despite being full of cold and probably too ill to travel this was too good an opportunity to miss. Newport County's home 3rd round FA Cup tie with Blackburn Rovers had been postponed and had been rescheduled for Monday 18th January, partly thanks to Welsh language TV channel S4C now covering the game live. I was surprised I was even able to get a ticket but in the event it was nowhere near sold out despite this being arguably the biggest FAC game for the Amber Army since they lost 2 - 0 at the old Roker Park, Sunderland around 30 year ago. This wasn't the first time I'd been to a Newport home game either, back in 1978 I was at their old Somerton Park ground for an FA Cup 2nd round game with Worcester City (0-0 and then City lost 1 - 2 in the replay). Somerton Park was a monster of a ground that included a greyhound track and speedway track but it’s long since been demolished and is now the site of a housing estate.
So I drove into Shrewsbury, parked up in the station car park and paid my £4.80 for 24 hours fee and then stepped aboard the 13:40 to Milford Haven calling at Newport and about a thousand other stations either side of the Welsh border. For £36 return though it was a decent enough journey. Shortly after leaving Shrewsbury station we passed the Shrews' New Meadow Stadium and then the next station was Church Stretton whose "Magpies" junior football team were once regular opposition for my lads who played for Market Drayton Junior Tigers. In fact the whole trip was full of memories; another stop was Hereford and just before the station, over to my right I could see the floodlights and the top of the stands of Hereford United's Edgar Street ground where my first love, Worcester City regularly played back in the old Southern League and for whom I saw the great John Charles play many times at the end of his career.
Arriving at the space age looking rail station at Newport (honestly it is, all curved steel and glass), I first of all took the wrong exit and ended up in the car park with no obvious way out to the streets of Newport! Eventually, retracing my steps and going back through the station I eventually exited correctly onto the Queensway Road and made my way straight to Rodney Parade in the hope of getting some photos in the daylight. There has been quite a lot of development in and around the city centre in recent years and it looks every bit the third largest city in Wales after Cardiff and Swansea. I wandered over the impressive looking Newport City Footbridge that spans the River Usk linking the East bank of the river in the vicinity of Rodney Parade stadium to the University Plaza on the West bank . As to getting any photographs, the only one was that shown below, of the main gateway. The rest of the stadium is protected by a high black corrugated fence or the rear walls of the stands and you can see very little of the inside of the ground. There is a lot of construction work still going on all around the ground but it was hard to ascertain exactly what they are building!
I made my way back into town where I'd arranged to meet up with @PCOX74 a Leeds fan born and bred in Newport. We enjoyed a chat and a couple of beers in a Wetherspoon in Bridge Street, the Queens Hotel, before setting off for the game. I didn’t tell Coxy at the time, but I ‘d been in there since about 4pm and had already worked my way through a fair few pints of Abbot Ale and one of Spoons’ gourmet burgers!
Although the ground would be nowhere near full, everyone seemed to have arrived at the last minute and we had quite a queue to get into the Hazell Stand, not helped by the bloke in front of me not understanding that the bar code reader needed to see the bar code end of ticket not the blank end! I guess it was the first visit of the season for many and not just for me.
Rodney Parade is a strange looking stadium. It is primarily a rugby ground of course with both Gwent Dragons and Newport Rugby also playing there and hence the pitch was thread bare. On our right, as we sat at the front of the Hazell Stand were the travelling Rovers fans on a little open terrace that only went part way across that end of the ground. The players entered the field from the corner we were nearest to on our right and they emerged from of a building not dissimilar to that strange little “house” in the corner of Portman Road, Ipswich. The opposite end was also a completely open terrace of what looked to be ten or twelve steps. The Bisley Stand opposite us is quite new, shiny even, and dates from 2011. It has rows of seats below a flat wall of hospitality boxes and the seats are multi coloured giving a sort of chequer board effect. The TV gantry was also up at the top over the half way line. Finally, the Hazell stand, where we sat is a traditional structure with terracing to the front and several rows of seating to the rear. Annoyingly, there were some very thick posts supporting the roof which do get in your eye line.
The game got off to a cracking start with referee Charles Breakspear giving Rovers a very soft penalty after just 8 minutes when Ben Marshall was adjudged to have been pushed by Scott Barrow. Marshall fired the penalty home without drama. Everyone thought it would be now be an uphill struggle for the Ambers but within 2 minutes a wild tackle by Rovers' Chris Brown on Medy Elito saw the Blackburn man sent off although the unfortunate Elito was also carried off! Game on!
Half an hour into the game and Newport's Mark Byrne brought everyone to their feet with a magnificent 25 yard strike that curled into the top corner down at the far end of the ground, our left. 1 - 1 at half time and the only bad news, apart from the huge queues for the bogs, was that Jordan Rhodes was stripped and ready to come on for the second half. Having seen him regularly score against Leeds I feared for the home side.
Sure enough, with 75 minutes on the clock, Rhodes rose majestically to head home and confirm a place in round 4 for Rovers. Newport had one glorious chance in the 80th minute but with the entire goal to aim at, Scott Boden headed well over the bar; shame.
And that was ground number 89, just 3 now to go and I am starting to feel disappointed that this mammoth project is coming to an end. With my thanks to Coxy for sharing this one with me, I now look forward to Crawley, Wimbledon and Southend to complete the set.