By Rob Carbon
A year ago James Rowberry’s life took a dramatic turn when he was offered the chance to manage his home town team, Newport County.
As a first step into management following a successful stint as a first team coach at Cardiff City it seemed the perfect move.
When his side delivered him a 3-1 win at Bristol Rovers on 23 October, 2021, in his first game in the dug-out, everything looked rosy.
Almost a year on, and with 50 games now under his belt, the picture is slightly different. Storm clouds are gathering and if he thought last October was big, the current month is arguably even more important both for him and the club.
Having enjoyed a number of seasons flirting with promotion under Michael Flynn, during which time County reached two play-off finals at Wembley, the club is currently involved in a different battle this season.
First and foremost, this campaign is about survival and the next three games could be crucial to the long term futures of both club and manager.
The boys training hard in preparation for our fixture with on Saturday – A reminder if you haven’t yet secured your tickets you can do so below!
— Newport County AFC (@NewportCounty) October 6, 2022
Rowberry had 35 games in charge in his debut season in all competitions and just managed to end in credit with 15 wins, seven draws and 13 defeats. That meant an 11th place finish, eight points off the play-off places.
If that was respectable, this season has been more difficult. With only six wins and two draws in 16 games, County are floundering in 17th and definitely in danger in being sucked into a relegation battle for the first time in many years.
Last weekend’s 2-1 win at top of the table Leyton Orient amply demonstrated their true potential, but it was back to the generally frustrating pattern of this season on Tuesday night with a 1-0 defeat at Swindon.
“I felt we should have at least drawn but we didn’t and now after a really positive result against Orient, we need to have a really good performance against Rochdale,” said Rowberry.
“It’s fine margins, but ultimately we have to win games. I felt that we should have got a point with that chance at the end.
“We kept going and going, showing good spirit to get that chance. It’s all ifs, buts and maybes and we have to move on to Saturday to put in a really good performance and get a result.”
It won’t just be in this weekend’s home clash with Rochdale that Rowberry will be seeking maximum points from, either.
County’s next three games are against the bottom three teams in the league and in order to stay out of trouble they could do with winning all three.
There are currently only six points between Rochdale, in bottom place, and County in 17th and Rowberry’s side have played a game more.
Then comes a trip to face Crawley, who are 23rd, before a home clash with Colchester, who are in 22nd.
What an opportunity to put daylight between themselves and the dreaded relegation zone – what a chance for Rowberry to prove himself once again to be the man for the job.
There are two more league outings at the end of this month at seventh-placed Mansfield and third-placed Northampton Town before the team has to head to Premier League Leicester City for a Carabao Cup clash.
Newport defender James Clarke:
“We are the ones that are letting [James Rowberry] down and the spotlight normally shines on the manager in these scenarios. The boys have to take accountability; we haven’t been good enough of late and we owe him one.”
— Tim Graham (@tashkentterror) September 23, 2022
It feels like a defining point of the season for both club and manager.
Captain Matty Dolan is “touch and go” for the Rochdale game with an ankle injury, while defender Priestley Farquharson is still sidelined by a hamstring problem. But West Ham loanee Thierry Nevers could return after a back strain.
Meanwhile, striker Offrande Zanzale resumes full training next week having been out since early August with a hamstring tendon injury.