A feature on a memorable week in the FA Cup for Swansea City and Newport County.
Their results were as contrasting as their respective situations, but as attentions turned to the FA Cup this week, Swansea City and Newport County used the famous competition to full advantage as they both enter the business end of the season.
Swansea City were a team as rock bottom in confidence as they were in the Premier League table when Carlos Carvalhal arrived at the Liberty Stadium at the end of 2017. Since then, the infectiously enthusiastic Portuguese coach as done a tremendous job in restoring belief in a squad of players devoid of hope under predecessor Paul Clement.
Memorable victories over Liverpool and Arsenal have shown just what can be achieved with the right approach, and even a concerning 1-1 draw at Notts County in the FA Cup was turned into a positive as Swansea City stormed to an incredible 8-1 victory on Tuesday night. The additional cup game was initially considered an unwanted distraction, but could prove as important as the aforementioned victories.
The youthful energy, hunger and exuberance of Welsh duo Connor Roberts and debutant goalscorer Daniel James were significant positives for the long-term future for the club, while the confidence boosting brace from loanee Tammy Abraham could provide the spark he needs to rediscover the impressive goal return he produced at Bristol City last season.
Carvalhal departed Championship side Sheffield Wednesday on Christmas Eve, but four days later found himself in the Premier League. Making the most of his opportunity, Carvalhal started work on his latest project immediately, and he could prove to the shrewdest managerial appointment by the club to date if he can retain their Premier League status.
Of course, competing in the Premier League brings with it significant financial return, and that is a world away from the situation at Newport County. Pushing for a play-off place in League 2 under the guidance of local hero Mike Flynn, they are another club that has been turned around by their most recent managerial appointment, as it was Flynn’s passion for the club that helped inspire their Football League survival last season.
What a performance from the boys! On a personal note delighted to have made my debut and to get a goal, what dreams are made of! Thanks to everyone who has helped me get here today, this is just the start of a long journey now it’s time to kick on🙌🏻 @SwansOfficial pic.twitter.com/bfRZ6VRNtS
— Daniel (@Daniel_James_97) February 6, 2018
Now focusing on matters at the other end of the table, Flynn has assembled a talented and exciting squad, and their performances in the FA Cup have attracted national attention. Many believed their 2-1 victory over Leeds United in the previous round at their humble Rodney Parade home would be the pinnacle of the campaign, but there was much more to come.
Paired with Premier League giants Tottenham Hotspur, Newport would host their star-studded rivals in this David versus Goliath tie. Once again, the live television cameras were at Rodney Parade, and Flynn’s side didn’t disappoint as they held Mauricio Pochettino’s men to a 1-1 draw. In fact, Harry Kane’s late equaliser meant that the home side were the team left frustrated at the final whistle.
The return match at Wembley was a financial dream for the club, a professional dream for the players, and fantasy football for the fans who travelled to London in their thousands on Wednesday night. Newport were excellent again in the opening half, but Spurs just had too much for them in the end, and eased to a fairly comfortable 2-0 win.
To keep it in perspective, in the next few days Spurs will host arch rivals Arsenal, before heading to Turin to take on Juventus in the Champions League. Newport County will face Forest Green Rovers and Mansfield. However, Pochettino was full of praise for the attitude of Flynn’s side and the atmosphere created at Rodney Parade, and Flynn, at the age of just 37, is already proving himself to be an inspired appointment.
🏴 Back to Rodney Parade for @flynnster17 and his @NewportCounty squad now and with it the realities of League 2. Still in the promotion mix and boosted both on and off the field by a great @EmiratesFACup run pic.twitter.com/gWAvUywgGs
— Mark Pitman (@markpitman1) February 7, 2018
While Swansea City may not find the financial benefits of their FA Cup run particularly significant in comparison to their Premier League rewards, Newport County can expect a £1m boost on the back of this cup run alone, and in terms of their overall turnover, it is a profound figure. Improving their infrastructure as suggested will ensure this memorable cup run leaves a longer-term legacy.
Carvalhal has charmed the media since his arrival with his colourful comparison statements for each weekly predicament his side find themselves in, while Flynn has instilled a much-needed local identity into Newport County that the fans can relate to, and his players have clearly bought into. But there is still plenty of football to be played before either manager can call their respective campaigns a success.
The FA Cup has been neglected by the leading clubs in recent years, but for Swansea City and Newport County, the impact of this weeks two games could prove defining at the end of the season. Few would have expected Swansea City to score eight in a game this season as Clement’s side struggled to create an attempt on goal, and even fewer would have envisioned Newport County holding Spurs to a draw.
Shawn McCoulsky and Padraig Amond were the respective cup heroes for Newport County against Leeds United and Spurs, but their focus must now return to league business as they push for promotion. Meanwhile, Swansea City have given their relegation rivals a scare since Carvalhal’s appointment, and his personal FA Cup reward is a return to former club Sheffield Wednesday in the next round.