The shadow of Wilfried Bony can help knock West Ham out of the Carabao Cup tonight, according to Newport County goalkeeper Nick Townsend.
Former Swansea City, Manchester City and Ivory Coast striker Bony has been training at Rodney Parade for the past three weeks, although manager Michael Flynn has always insisted the forward will end up resuming his stalled career at somewhere higher up football’s food chain than EFL League Two.
But as County bid to script more Cup giant-killing history this evening at home to the Premier League club, Townsend has no doubts Bony will have in indirect influence on the outcome.
“I think he has brought the level of training up and everything like that,” Townsend says of the player Manuel Pellegrini – now the visitors’ manager –once paid £28m for when he was at Manchester City.
“He is the first one in and the last one out and he’s showing a lot of the lads the standards you need to play at the top level. It makes the young lads raise their game.
“But I have to admit, then when I first saw him here, training at Newport, I thought he was lost.”
Bony is unlikely to pull on an amber shirt any time soon, but as the striker maintains his fitness down the M4 from Swansea, where he still has a home and a son in the Swans’ academy, then it proves the growing stature of the club and their manager.
That personal reputation was first established when Flynn kept Newport in the Football League three seasons ago and then took them into the play-offs last season.
But it was amplified by their FA Cup exploits of the season before last when they beat Leeds United and took Tottenham to a replay, before they over-achievied again in the same competition last season by knocking out Leicester City and Middlesbrough, before finally succumbing to domestically all-conquering Manchester City.
Pellegrini is likely to rest a large number of his first choice players, despite the threat of another ambush which is underlined by the starts made so far this season by the respective clubs in their divisions.
Newport sit fifth in the League Two standings after five games and had a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Crewe at the weekend.
West Ham, meanwhile, picked up their first win of the new campaign on Saturday thanks to a 3-1 success against Watford at Vicarage Road.
Pellegrini said: “We know this team has played well in the cups, they beat Leicester and they drew with Tottenham, so we are sure they have a lot of good experience from last season.
“We will make some changes. Jack Wilshere and Robert Snodgrass were not involved (at Watford). But we must play with the same attitude we did against Watford. If not then we will have bad moments.
“We need to see the other players with good performances.”
Flynn insists Pellegrini has been around too long to take County too lightly and that the Chilean will see this tournament as a route to Wembley and some silverware.
“Rodney Parade is obviously a lot different to what they’re used to but I know they’re good professionals, they’re top players and they’ve got a very good manager,” said the Exiles boss.
“He’s been there, seen it and done it and he’s been in England long enough now to know what it’s all about.
“They won’t want to be on the end of an upset because this competition might be a route to Wembley for them.
“Mid-table teams like them and Leicester and Wolves have got to be looking at this competition as a shot at winning a trophy.”
But no-one should expect Flynn’s respect for the opposition manager and the Hammers players to be reflected out on the pitch once the opening whistle sounds.
“I’m not one to sit back, drop off, and let teams pick you off – especially Premier League teams,” he said.
“You can’t just keep having wave after wave of attacks against you because quality operators will find a way through. They’ll murder you.
“So we’ve got to make a game of it. They will have possession, they will pin us back, but it won’t be because we decide to sit back.
“We respect the opponent but we’ll look to get in their faces and close the spaces and their passing lines.”