City of Newport water polo played its fifth Bristol & West League match of the season on Wednesday, when Cheltenham were the visitors to Newport International Sports Village. The Newport went into the match as huge underdogs. Indeed, Cheltenham have created a fierce reputation for themselves in recent times. The Cheltenham currently have two teams competing in the British National League. Their first team were crowned British champions in March for the fourth year in a row, whilst their second team also compete in the fourth tier of the National League. But even though it was Cheltenham’s seconds who turned up on Wednesday evening, Newport still knew that the visitors were very much favourites going into the game.
But the match did not start as expected. During the opening minutes, it was the Newport that took control, racing into a 3-1 lead through goals from captain and centre-forward James Farror; experienced arc player Gareth Campbell, who, along with Daniel Griffiths, was making his 50th competitive appearance for Newport; and the ever-threatening international veteran Chris Taylor. But Cheltenham refused to lie down and came back into the game. At the end of the first quarter, it was the Cheltenham who held a slim 4-3 lead.
The second quarter was a much more one-sided affair. Switching between a heavy press and a zonal defence, and also hitting a tired Cheltenham side on the counterattack, Newport played their finest quarter of water polo in many years. Keeping a clean sheet, but also adding further goals through Taylor (2), Farror (1), 18 year old Hugh Spencer (2) and 17 year old Jack Tod (1), Newport raced into a surprising 9-4 lead at half-time.
The start of the third quarter saw Newport extend its lead, following another brace from Taylor. But just when it seemed that Newport had acquired an unassailable lead, a plot twist provided Cheltenham with a potential route back into the match. With two minutes left to play in the quarter, one of the Newport International Players was red-carded for kicking a Cheltenham player. As a result, Cheltenham were awarded a penalty, which they converted, but more importantly Newport was forced to play a man-down for four minutes. If Cheltenham could take advantage of the situation, it would lead to a tense final few minutes.
But Cheltenham could not make the most of the opportunity. In fact, during the exclusion period, it was Newport who continued to dominate. With Newport employing a very low drop in defence, forcing long shots against the Newport’s excellent goalkeeper, Alex James, Cheltenham failed to get on the scoresheet. Newport, by contrast, registered two further goals, with Taylor scoring a back-shot from the wing and Campbell from a five-metre foul shot. Consequently, when the teams went back to evens after four minutes, Newport had all but won the match. Yet there was still time left for Newport to register one final goal – and it came in extraordinary circumstances. As the final whistle sounded, the Cheltenham keeper inexplicably decided to leave his goal, only for Farror to shoot and score a length of the pool shot, giving much delight to the spectators and Newport a comfortable 14-6 victory.
This was a momentous win for the division’s new boys, who displayed superb game-management throughout the match. Despite having won Division Two last year, Newport knew that they would face some extremely tough opponents this season and that avoiding relegation would be a tough ask. But their win over Cheltenham – the team’s second of the league campaign and first ever over national league opposition – has put them in a fantastic position to do precisely that. There are more tough games ahead in June, with four further matches against national league opposition, but Newport know that they will be a match for any team if they can play to their potential.
Newport Water Polo is expanding and seeking new players to join this thriving Club. Please contact Newport Water Polo at firstname.lastname@example.org for information on how to join us for this exciting and growing sport.