Newport County, who sprang the surprise of the Third Round by knocking out Premier League side Leicester, are rewarded with a visit to Middlesbrough with a place in Round Five at stake. Boro came through the last round with flying colours, thrashing Peterborough 5-0, and benefit from home advantage here – but they’ll need to have their wits about them as they face a side more than capable of raising their game to get a result against teams from higher divisions.
Under the management of Tony Pulis, the hosts are unlikely to be outfought by their League Two opposition, and this game may become an attritional battle in temperatures that may well dip below zero. For the Exiles, who have only been back in league football since 2013 after going out of business and reforming in 1989, a place in the fifth round would be the stuff of fairytales – can they make it happen this weekend?
Middlesbrough vs Newport County Prediction: Middlesbrough 2-1 Newport County
Last year, at this stage of the competition, Newport threw a serious spanner in the works for Tottenham by going within ten minutes of knocking the Premier League side out – Spurs won the eventual replay after a 1-1 draw. A few weeks ago, the Exiles did deliver the cup shock they had threatened, sending Leicester back across the border defeated 2-1 and eliminated.
Those matches had one key factor in common – they took place at Newport’s Rodney Parade – a noisy, ramshackle ground that could have been designed to make Premier League players uneasy. If this game were also a home tie for the underdogs, a shock win would not be out of the question here – but as it stands, we have to lean towards the Championship side.
Our recommended tip: Both Teams To Score
While Newport may fall short in their bid to progress in the FA Cup, there is still plenty of reason to believe that they will give a good account of themselves in the attempt. What was notable about their win over Leicester was the team’s readiness to get on the front foot and look for goals against a side several divisions above them. We would expect Newport to be a little more circumspect on the road, but can certainly see them creating – and taking – one or more chances even in defeat. You can get 21/20 from Unibet on Both Teams To Score, and we’d consider that a pretty decent punt.
Due to Newport’s troubled history, which included a long spell outside of the Football League, there isn’t any head-to-head back story involving these clubs. As we’ve already noted, the last couple of years have seen the Exiles take on clubs from a league above where Boro are now, and give them a hard time. Indeed, they may be encouraged by the example of League One side Burton Albion, who met Boro in the quarter-finals of the Carabao Cup earlier this season, and knocked them out with a 1-0 win at the Riverside. Could it be a second shock victory for Newport, and a second embarrassing defeat for Middlesbrough, all rolled into one?
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Players to watch: Jordan Hugill & Padraig Amond
Hugill’s comparatively pricey £7.5million move to West Ham surprised many this time last year, and the curiosity only deepened as they gave him just 22 minutes of first-team football in the four remaining months of the season. However, since moving to the North East on loan, he’s looked like a live wire and scored a late equaliser last weekend against Millwall, just a few weeks after doing the same against promotion hopefuls Derby. A solid finisher in a team that often seems to lack such a weapon, Hugill could be of vital importance in this game.
From Shamrock Rovers to Newport, via a stint in the Portuguese Premier League; it’s not the typical career path, and Irish forward Amond would be the first to admit it. His winner, from the penalty spot, took the Exiles past Leicester and into the hat for the Fourth Round, and another showing like we saw that day could add another twist or turn to the Carlow native’s intriguing story. Full of effort and blessed with a goalscorer’s knack (he has 11 in 28 games this season), the 30-year-old will be keen to make a mark in this game.