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Man Utd survive a fright on the day Newport’s new era begins

Newport 2-4 Man Utd (Morris 36, Evans 47′ | Fernandes 7′, Mainoo 13′, Antony 68′, Hojlund 90+4′)

RODNEY PARADE — To enter the dressing rooms at Rodney Parade, fitted snugly in between houses as it is, Manchester United’s players had to walk the entire length of the pitch from north to south like a herd of tracksuited migrating beasts.

With the ground barely 10 per cent full, they were given every indication how much noise the other 90 per cent would make. Were Manchester United prepared? Is this club ever prepared for anything?

United survived. If that is cause for celebration against League Two midtablers, it damns with barely any praise at all. The calamity to end all calamities came and went after causing only light bruising, but any resulting pain or stiffness was entirely self-inflicted.

The neutral will thank them more than their own supporters: it made for a raucous, reckless football match that was impossible to get hold off, like juggling wet soaps and jellies.

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Newport County endured years of exile and darkness – Man Utd tie is a new dawn

This was a special day for Newport County, beyond the confines of FA Cup magic and temporary suspensions of league pyramid disbelief. The takeover fronted by former Swansea City chairman Huw Jenkins has been several months in the making and several years in the needing. The hope is that the indefatigable work of the Supporters’ Trust will now combine with an injection of funds and experience that can make life a little less difficult off the pitch.

But they weren’t ready to think of the future just yet – call this the welcome party of a new era. Rodney Parade has welcomed high-profile guests before, but manager Graham Coughlan’s insistence that this was the biggest game in the club’s history was not entirely hyperbolic and based on his own childhood support for Sunday’s opponents.

It started with a double dose of reality that slapped supporters across the face. United’s attacking forte is passing the ball from side to side, with one of the full-backs creeping forward to create an overlap. That creates space for the full-back or winger to pull the ball back to the edge of the box for a finish.

Twice in the first 14 minutes, Newport were unable to prevent the trick. Both full-backs were left wondering whether to engage or protect the space and did neither – Alejandro Garnacho had the most joy. Bruno Fernandes and Kobbie Mainoo scored the goals from the edge of Newport’s penalty in too much space for comfort. The former drilled his shot, the latter curled.

Without the ball, Newport seemed helpless. Those in amber were predisposed to chase every player with the ball as it switched from feet to feet, like a high-energy communal piggy-in-the-middle. But United were never threatened by the pressure. A flash of amber was repeatedly caught high up the pitch and United played quick passes on the turn to expose them.

But Coughlan will have done his research and it takes only an amateur analyst to notice how Erik ten Hag’s side desperately struggle to avoid sustained lulls in their matches when the intensity and concentration drops badly. They allow opponents – even those in League Two – to gain a foothold whatever the scoreline. United had kept two clean sheets in their previous 11 games for good reason.

Newport’s goal possessed a teaspoon of fortune – speculation, deflection, accidental precision. But Bryn Morris’ dipping shot was a symptom of the general disease. United stopped playing and Newport were never going to.

And what happens when you give an underdog something to grip onto with their molars? And what happens when the resolve of Ten Hag’s team is tested? No prizes for either answer.

Half-time should have allowed United to reset; instead further sloppy relaxation. One simple ball down the channel, one run not tracked, one-touch finish. Good heavens, Will Evans.

There would be no grandstand finish. Antony spent most of the afternoon throwing up both hands into the air at his own ineptitude like some weird semaphore, but he did score the goal, celebrating as if happy to find his level. Rasmus Hojlund offered undeserved shine in injury time, just as Rodney Parade was pleading for one more chance of their own.

Perhaps Newport could not quite have everything on this significant afternoon. Perhaps we’re being churlish, and United relocated their sense of selves and competence and that was always going to be enough. If so, we should be thanking them for their inescapable habits.

It’s hard to work out whether this weird mass of talent and toil is undergoing revolution or devolution with each passing week. Either way, it’s worth it being televised.



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