NEWPORT County AFC suffered more League Two frustration after being beaten 2-0 by Bradford City at Valley Parade.
Richie Smallwood’s terrific long-range hit after six minutes brought roars from the majority of the 16,704-strong crowd in Yorkshire.
The Exiles lost Aaron Wildig and Robbie Willmott to injury and then were reduced to 10 men in first half stoppage time when Declan Drysdale brought down Andy Cook on the edge of the box.
Bradford secured the spoils just seven minutes after the restart when Harry Chapman burst into the area too easily and his shot squirmed past Nick Townsend.
Here are the talking points from Bradford…
Bradford deserved their lead after a fast start and a superb hit by Smallwood, with County paying the price for a lack of pressure on the Bantams skipper.
The rest of the first half was even and County carried a threat through Omar Bogle, Lewis Collins and James Waite, albeit the Bantams had more clear openings.
But everything changed in added time when Drysdale took a heavy touch and was then adjudged to have brought down Cook on the edge of the area.
I said adjudged because some have argued that it was a tackle in which the defender touched the ball onto the striker and it then bounced through to Townsend, with the Bradford man never going to get it.
However, it certainly looked a foul live and once deemed so by the man that mattered – Will Finnie – a red was inevitable. Had it not been given as a foul then Mark Hughes’ post-match rant would still be going on.
Manager James Rowberry was angry afterwards but at the decision of his defence in the fifth of six added minutes.
To get caught in possession at such a stage rather than just getting back to their changing room to regroup then push for a leveller was criminal.
Drysdale has endured a tough start to life at County after being exposed down the right for Sutton’s goal and then seeing red at Bradford.
However, he clearly has ability and perhaps this setback will lead to a change of role.
County could appeal his red but it’s hard to see that being successful, which would lead to a change at the back with fit-again James Clarke likely to slot in on the right of the three against Salford.
The experienced defender has been missed after being a near ever-present last season and his comeback could prompt the pre-season trio of Clarke-Drysdale-Mickey Demetriou to get a run of games.
The boss complained about the same defensive mistakes being made and that should lead at him looking at his personnel.
Priestley Farquharson, Aaron Lewis (with Cam Norman moved central) and midfield new boy Nathan Moriah-Welsh have to also come into consideration.
This isn’t the time to rip up pre-season plans but if mistakes are repeated then a manager has to respond, especially given County have rightly talked about squad depth and selection headaches.
— Sky Bet League Two (@SkyBetLeagueTwo) August 13, 2022
Last season ended in disappointment after a promotion challenge faded away, largely because of failures at Rodney Parade.
This is a new-look side but sadly their early results have given plenty of ammunition to doom-mongers.
County finished strongly at Sutton but had to settle for a draw and then they had the better of Walsall only to be mugged 1-0.
The excellent cup win at Luton calmed things down but this was another pointless trip, albeit against a side that are likely to be mixing it at the top this season.
Bradford got on the front foot to ensure their expectant crowd – an incredible 16,533 of a total 16,704 – didn’t get frustrated with their players.
With Salford going well and then tough Tranmere next up this is a test of County’s ability, attitude and resolve… but also an opportunity to show what they are about.
James Rowberry will stick to his principles and remains convinced that County are on the right track.
However, the County manager could do with hearing some sour grapes from his opposite numbers rather than praise.
Michael Flynn paid credit to his former side: “The best team lost, if I’m totally honest. They were very good, they were better than us.
“They can feel hard done by because I genuinely think Newport were the better team but my team were absolutely tremendous defensively.
“Newport are a good team. They’ve lost six in a row at home now, which is obviously not great, but if they play like that every week then Newport will be fine.”
Hughes was also impressed by the Exiles.
“We showed good patience against a team who were a challenge for us. I think Newport will be strong this year on that showing,” said the former Wales boss.
“They kept two men up and were still a threat so we had to make sure we were honest in the way we approached the game. We couldn’t take any chances or be risky because they were quite prepared to go on the front foot.”
County need a home win by hook or by crook because a draw will only turn talk, from the media and fans, of a six-game Rodney Parade losing streak into a seven-game Rodney Parade winless streak.
In three league games they have fired in 39 shots, 17 from outside the box, but Omar Bogle's header from Mickey Demetriou's long throw at Sutton is their only goal.
A big improvement is needed in open play and they also need to stop being so wasteful from attacking set plays.
The transfer window shuts on September 1 and Rowberry is happy with what he has up front, but I worry County might be a man light given his preference for playing a two-man partnership.
In the second half of last season they ended up having too many strikers on the books, leading to Timmy Abraham being a fringe figure who couldn’t even make the bench.
The manager wants to have a small, concentrated squad in which there is little drop-off between players that are rotated.
He has four main options up top of Omar Bogle, Offrande Zanzala, Lewis Collins and Chanka Zimba plus versatile Will Evans.
However, the absence of Zanzala because of a leg muscle injury was a big blow in Bradford after his impressive start to life in Newport.
If Bogle, their prime physical option, was to suffer a blow it would put massive pressure on the young shoulders of Cardiff loanee Zimba.
County will keep hunting a number 10 before the transfer window shuts but if they don’t add another forward then it could suddenly thrust young Tom Stokes into the fray.
Sod’s law means that if the Exiles sign another forward then everyone will stay fit, stick with what they have got an expect an injury crisis.
Another striker would arguably be one too many but if a freebie loan from a Premier League or Championship club was available then it’d surely be worth pursuing?