Rhodes to Wembley

We’re now on the Rhodes to Wembley (yeah I know, it’s a shit pun) thanks to Blackburn’s Jordan Rhodes, who came off the bench to head home the winning goal in the re-arranged 3rd round tie at Newport County.

The original game had been called off just an hour before kick off on January 9, leaving me and three disgruntled mates to fester in the city’s Carpenter’s Arms for an afternoon.

Thankfully conditions for the re-scheduled game were less soggy, and thanks to the Newport ground staff – who had come under fire from then boss John Sheridan for not doing enough to get the game on – the pitch was playable, despite freezing temperatures being the biggest threat this time.

Although the game was on, my chances of seeing it were looking slim. On the journey down, I sensed that maybe I was destined not to see this bloody tie. The M5 – the main artery connecting me with south Wales – was closed due to a vehicle colliding with a bridge. So everybody off. This created a problem. It was rush hour, and Worcester, my diversion route, was at a total standstill thanks to traffic that had left the motorway now mixing with commuter traffic. The place was gridlocked, and the term ‘rush hour’ had become a contradiction of itself.

I finally managed to free myself from this jungle of metal, concrete and fumes by twice performing moves that would fail any modern driving test and once performing an illegal U-Turn.

Through the villages of Worcestershire and Herefordshire I went, diverted over the Malvern hills, through Ledbury and, eventually, after a wasted hour and a half, onto the M50, giving me a clear – and very fast – run to Newport. Even by missing a turn-off in Newport – and possibly getting a letter through my door from CREST for doing 40 in a 30 zone when looking for signage – I got to the ground only 15 minutes after kick off.

Sadly, it turned out to be the most action-packed segment of the game, with a dodgy penalty decision awarded to Blackburn which Ben Marshall tucked away, and a sending off for Rovers’ Chris Brown for a horrible challenge on Medy Elito which ended his game.

As I settled in to Newport’s charismatic Rodney Parade ground, it wasn’t long before we witnessed a worldie from County skipper Mark Byrne. The former Forest and Barnet man unleashed an unstoppable shot into the top corner with hardly any backlift. Moments later County almost took the lead when Conor Dymond stuck out a toe to poke a cross onto the post and wide. A let off for Rovers.

After that the game failed to ignite until a set-piece on 75 minutes. The initial ball from Tom Lawrence was cleared, but his second delivery was inch perfect for substitute Jordan Rhodes to glance home what turned out to be the winner.

It wasn’t the last action of the game. Scott Boden will still be wondering how on Earth he managed to direct a free header over the bar from 6 yards out, and there was still time for a second sending off. When Rhodes was sent sprawling by a poorly-timed challenge from Exiles ‘keeper Joe Day outside his box, he received his marching orders, levelling up the player count at least.

But Newport couldn’t level the scores, and their first 3rd round encounter for 30 years was over.
After that, there was no time for merriment and it was straight back in the car for what turned out to be another nightmare journey. The M5 was again shut. This time thanks to routine maintenance work which forced all traffic onto the A38 via Bromsgrove, adding a good 45 minutes to my journey time. And then, just as I was thinking I could be home for midnight, the A610 slip road from the M1 – a direct route home – was also closed. Without warning as well! So I had to go further up the M1 to come back down. Nightmare. Bloody roads/Rhodes.

So we say a fond farewell to Newport County, whom we’ve followed through two rounds. Our allegiance now switches to Blackburn, our first northern side, although their reward for the win in Wales is another trip south to Oxford United. So we’ll be at the Kassam Stadium on Saturday, January 30, following Blackburn, our 6th team on our quest so far.

To recap, our Quest has seen us follow:

South Normanton Athletic
Lincoln United
Rugby Town
Brackley Town
Newport County
Blackburn Rovers

GoalCelebrations

The players return to their positions after Mark Byrne’s ‘Worldie’.

HalfTime1

Half time

BlackburnFans

The Blackburn supporters who made the long trip down on a Monday evening, seemingly managing to negotiate the M5 without any problems.

NewportFans

#SupportThePort

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Rodney Parade's Entrance

Frustration and Dismay in Wet Wales

Having arrived in Newport on my own after a short journey over the River Severn from Bristol, and after paying £6.60 to enter Wales(!), the time was now 12:15, just under three hours until the FA Cup 3rd Round tie between Newport County and Blackburn Rovers was due to kick off.

I headed to the ground to pick up my pre-booked tickets. It’d save time later, I thought. It’ll give us more time to find a pub and watch the Wycombe-Villa game on telly without having to bother about ticket queues, I thought. As my companion Mark arrived via train (we travelled separately as I’d spent the previous night in Brizzle with friends), the rain was beating down. We quickly headed for The Carpenter’s Arms, a pub just a 10-minute walk over the River Usk from the ground. Cheap, good ale, shelter from the rain and they had the match on. So far, so good, if a little damp.

As we watched the game in Newport’s oldest pub, supping pints of Double Dragon (£2.75 a pint. Can’t go wrong), I overheard the bartender joking with a group of Blackburn fans who had wandered in. He smiled as he told them that the game was off, and jokingly hinted that Merthyr Tydfil might have a game on if they fancied that. His grin led me to believe it was just banter; a wind up that is perhaps traditional when English fans make a mammoth trek down to his town. I thought no more of it.

A policeman then came in. He too headed over to the away contingent, presumably for a chat to see if they were behaving. They were by the way, impeccably. At about 2.30, just as the four of us – we were bolstered by an old friend from Oz along with his Geordie mate from Bristol on this trip – were about to head over the murky waters of the Usk to Rodney Parade, a conversation was struck with a local gent.

He had obviously clocked our English accents, being so disparate from the rhythmic Newport brogue, and was asking my Oz-based friend whether we’d get refunds or not. Confused, Ozzie Kaj, laughed it off. He has a knack of laughing his way out of awkward conversations. As he went on about journey times and wasted money, again, much to Kaj’s bemusement, the penny suddenly dropped. Fearing the worst I leaned in on the awkward conversation and asked “Excuse me, but has the game been called off?”

“What? You didn’t know?!, he spouted in disbelief. “It was called off half an hour ago due to the weather. You mean to tell me you’ve been sitting here thinking it was on?!”. “Yes. Yes we have”, I replied, sheepishly. Laughter then erupted from his table. Thick English gits, he and his fellow drinkers must’ve thought. Looking back the signs were there; I should’ve clicked on. The “Game’s off” joke was not a risible wind up at all. The policeman was obviously in conversation with the Rovers fans about contingency travel plans etc etc. I felt like a right dick.

So, what to do in Newport when the game you’ve travelled 160 miles to see is postponed? Well, for my mates, drink the cheap ale and sit and chat and watch Soccer Saturday in Newport’s oldest pub. For muggings here, as the driver, full fat Coke please.

The Blackburn fans also decided to stick around, maybe because their coach had buggered off and wasn’t returning until 5 o’clock. So they took over the pool table, which upset Mark greatly.
Since then, now former Exiles manager John Sheridan (he’s since left to re-join Oldham Athletic as their manager, much to the annoyance of the Newport board) said that the Newport ground staff should have done more prior to the deluge in order to get the game on. But to be fair, it bucketed down all afternoon. Had the game started, there’s a good chance it wouldn’t have reached its conclusion.

The tie has now been rescheduled for Monday, January 19, with a 7:15 kick off. Strange, as both teams are in action on Saturday. It may have something to do with Welsh channel S4C showing it live. After all, Newport are now the only remaining Welsh side in the competition as Swansea and Cardiff were both beaten by League Two clubs.

The unusually early kick off time actually does us a favour. It allows me to leave work a little early to get to the match, and, with hopefully traffic conditions on my side, I’ll be back in Derbyshire well before midnight, which is my usual slumber hour anyway. Plus the existing tickets are still valid. So another trip to the soggy town could be on the cards.

Awaiting the winner is Oxford United, who put out Premier League strugglers Swansea last Sunday. After making three trips to Brackley already on our Cup Quest, we will more than likely head to Oxford bypassing Brackley on the same route, as Oxford is a mere 25 miles south of Brackley.

But who will we follow to Oxford? We’ll find out next Monday. Weather permitting of course.

Newport Country v Blackburn Rovers Tickets

The match day tickets, picked up just after noon, two hours before the decision to postpone the game.

Newport County ticket office

The ticket office at Rodney Parade.

Rodney Parade's Entrance

The entrance to Rodney Parade, which closed at 2pm.