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
The players return to their positions after Mark Byrne’s ‘Worldie’.
The Blackburn supporters who made the long trip down on a Monday evening, seemingly managing to negotiate the M5 without any problems.