How County provided reason for optimism despite sixth Parade defeat on spin

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DANGERMAN: Offrande Zanzala was lively up front for County against Walsall
DANGERMAN: Offrande Zanzala was lively up front for County against Walsall

NEWPORT County AFC paid the price for failing to take their chances when beaten 1-0 by Walsall at Rodney Parade.

The Saddlers took the League Two spoils thanks to a scrappy goal from a corner after 63 minutes that left their players confused as to who to congratulate.

In the end it goes down as a Mickey Demetriou own goal, although former Exiles loanee Timmy Abraham was keen to claim it after Nick Townsend scrambled to make a save on the line.

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County went close on a number of occasions in the first half with Aaron Wildig denied by a flag for offside after heading in then Declan Drysdale fired a volley over when given a chance for a quick leveller.

However, Walsall won despite not having a shot on target, here are the talking points from a frustrating clash…

South Wales Argus: WINNER: Walsall took the spoils with a scrappy goal
South Wales Argus: WINNER: Walsall took the spoils with a scrappy goal

WINNER: Walsall took the spoils with a scrappy goal

DON’T PANIC

It is tempting to say that this was a classic Michael Flynn victory at Rodney Parade but that isn’t really the case, even if Walsall showed many of the traits of his County sides.

The visitors showed their battling qualities for a win on the road and their central defensive trio clobbered outside the box and cleared in it.

Flynn might be the manager off the field but Peter Clarke is Walsall’s manager on it – the 40-year-old showed his savviness alongside Donervon Daniels and Manny Monthe.

The Saddlers will not be a side that you want to fall behind to but don’t let the disappointment of the defeat cloud the fact that County should have made their visitors chase.

The Exiles played some lovely stuff in the first half but failed to take their chances (shades of Flynn’s 2020/21 side).

Strikers Omar Bogle and Offrande Zanzala caused all manner of problems while the throw of Mickey Demetriou is a big weapon with his fellow centre-back Declan Drysdale in the box.

There was a good balance to the Exiles’ style; they popped the ball around nicely and also had a physical edge.

The five successive home defeats at the end of last season add to the frustration but this is a new side and they should ensure plenty of happy afternoons in Newport.

James Rowberry’s side have a tough run coming up with Luton in the League Cup followed by a trip to Bradford City and then Salford and Tranmere at Rodney Parade.

Fingers crossed they will bag plenty of points but don’t lose faith if it is a slow start to the campaign.

On Saturday Exeter City enjoyed a 4-0 win in League One, just under 12 months after some were questioning what they were up to at the start of the League Two season.

The Grecians won just one of their first six league games but went on to escape the fourth tier.

South Wales Argus: DOWNED: Offrande Zanzala gave the Walsall defence a tough afternoon
South Wales Argus: DOWNED: Offrande Zanzala gave the Walsall defence a tough afternoon

DOWNED: Offrande Zanzala gave the Walsall defence a tough afternoon

‘OZ’ WIZARDRY

The move to County is a big opportunity for Zanzala to establish himself as a starter and the elusive striker has made a promising start.

The 25-year-old has bounced around clubs since coming through at Derby with Stevenage, Chester, Accrington, Crewe, Carlisle, Barrow and Exeter on his CV.

Zanzala gave the Sutton defence a tough afternoon at Gander Green Lane and the Walsall defenders were cursing him when dragged out of their comfort zone in the central areas.

He has never hit double figures in a season and is yet to break his duck with County but the chances will come, while his willing running will win free-kicks and set play opportunities.

Zanzala certainly adds a different dimension to the attack and although he could lead to plenty of groans with his run timing and offsides, the Congolese striker should get the Parade crowd roaring.

But one plea, take a leaf out of Dom Telford’s book and pull the trigger more.

MIDFIELD BALANCE

It’s awkward, at times last season I questioned whether it was too lightweight for Rowberry to go with a midfield quartet of Robbie Willmott, Jake Cain, Finn Azaz and Ollie Cooper.

Now you wonder whether it’s perhaps too conservative to go with Sam Bowen, Scot Bennett and Aaron Wildig, especially in front of a defensive three.

A reminder: these are very early days in 2022/23.

The manager stressed that Sutton away was not an occasion for playing through the midfield too frequently while the first half against Walsall did feature plenty of chances.

However, Willmott must be putting the heat on Bowen/Bennett while James Waite will want to dislodge Wildig.

Rowberry is looking to bolster his midfield with at least one loan signing who can play in the number 10 role.

If the clubs can lure another Azaz/Cooper/Scott Twine then it could be transformational.

Last season County were blessed with players that could drive forward on the break with the ball at their feet but that has been missing in these two opening fixtures.

OPPORTUNITY KNOCKS

County are set to ring the changes at Luton on Tuesday and the Carabao Cup clash represents a huge chance for those who have been outside the XI.

Robbie Willmott, Adam and Aaron Lewis, James Waite, Lewis Collins can all put the pressure on the League Two starters ahead of the trip to Bradford City.

Like at Ipswich last season, the League Cup presents a chance to shine.