Newport manager Michael Flynn admits Pep Guardiola is right to be wary of the Rodney Parade pitch he will encounter for Manchester City‘s FA Cup visit.
The surface, which is also used by rugby outfits Dragons and Newport RFC, is showing heavy signs of wear and tear despite being part-synthetic.
With the Wales women’s national team also making the ground their home, Rodney Parade has already staged over 60 football and rugby matches this season.
“The pitch will suit us more than them,” Flynn said ahead of Newport’s first FA Cup fifth-round appearance for 70 years.
“I’m glad it will because it gives us more of a chance than if we had to go to the Etihad. But let’s not blame the pitch or look for excuses. We’ve got to play out there as well.
“These players have a knack of rising to the occasion and they are a fantastic group.”
Guardiola has been made fully aware of the potential problems his Premier League leaders could face in south Wales on Saturday evening.
But the Spaniard denied rumours at his pre-match press conference that the City groundstaff had deliberately churned up a training pitch to help the side’s preparations.
“We have to adapt,” said Guardiola. “It is what it is and we accept that challenge. We played in the Premier League against Tottenham after NFL games.
“We’ll see what the pitch is like when we arrive. If you cannot play (the normal game), you have to play longer or quicker – but I don’t know. We are going to see.
“You don’t win absolutely anything complaining about that. When we play away, they are the owners of their stadium and they can play the pitch what it is.”
Newport are 82 places below English champions City on the league ladder, with the two clubs residing in different worlds.
The transfer value of City’s most recent starting XI was estimated at £465million, compared to the £50,000 of League Two Newport.
NEXT UP | We don’t need to remind you who is next up for the County...— Newport County AFC (@NewportCounty) 12 February 2019
🏆@EmiratesFACup Fifth Round
🏟 Rodney Parade
📅 Saturday 16th February
🕒 5.30pm KO
🎟 SELL OUT
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But the Exiles are well-versed in the act of giant-killing, with Leeds, Leicester and Middlesbrough all FA Cup victims at Rodney Parade over the last 14 months.
Asked if his side could conjure up another shock, Flynn replied: “Of course there can (be a shock). Otherwise I’d just turn up, give them the game and say ‘Let’s shake hands’ and walk off.
“Who said we were going to draw with Tottenham last season or beat Leicester, Leeds and Middlesbrough.
“If we win this, whether it’s extra time or penalties, and I don’t care how we do it, it will be the biggest shock in FA Cup history.
“But I want to give the supporters something to cheer about and these players have to believe, which I know they do, that they can cause an upset.”
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola has apologised for Riyad Mahrez’s lack of action.
Mahrez, City’s £60million record signing, has not started a Premier League game since the victory at Southampton on December 30.
Guardiola insists the Algerian has done little wrong but the form of others – notably Raheem Sterling, Leroy Sane and Bernardo Silva – has simply prevented him getting into the side.
Guardiola said: “I am the reason (he has not played). He is absolutely not guilty.
“I am sad because he is training incredibly. He is an incredibly talented player but in this moment we have five strikers. In the last games Leroy hasn’t played.
“We have incredible players, like for example Bernardo and Raz (Sterling) in top, top form and that is the only reason why. There’s no particular reason, like being upset or something like that.
“He is a guy we are happy with but unfortunately I am not kind with him. In fact, I cannot give him the minutes he deserves, so I’m sorry. That’s all I can say.”
Mahrez has had to make do with substitute appearances in the league and cup starts against Rotherham, Burton and Burnley in recent weeks.
Guardiola, however, has been pleased with the former Leicester forward’s attitude and promises his chances will come.
The 27-year-old could be involved as City face Newport in the fifth round of the FA Cup on Saturday. Further chances could come as a result of rotation with the Champions League resuming this week.
He said: “I am unfair in the fact that, if he had played the minutes that the others have played, he would have been in the top level like the players who are playing.
“It’s not easy for one guy who does not play regularly to come in and play at a high, high level. Give him five or six games in a row playing and he is going to play at the level of Sterling or Bernardo, or the players who play.
“When he played four or five games in a row he was incredible, outstanding.
“I don’t have any doubts about his quality. Just keep going, not complain too much, move forward and fight more and more.
“His time is coming and I’m pretty sure he is going to play good.”
Gianfranco Zola insists Chelsea are providing Callum Hudson-Odoi with “plenty of reasons to feel wanted”, despite the player’s lack of first-team football.
Winger Hudson-Odoi is unsettled at Stamford Bridge and handed in a transfer request last month following a £35million bid from Bundesliga champions Bayern Munich.
The 18-year-old, whose contract expires in 2020, has been restricted to just 19 minutes of senior action since the close of the transfer window and is still awaiting his first Premier League start.
His head may also have been turned by seeing England forward Jadon Sancho, who is around seven months older, thriving in Germany with league leaders Borussia Dortmund.
But Blues assistant boss Zola is adamant Hudson-Odoi is appreciated by the west London club, while pointing out that few players of his tender age regularly represent Europe’s top clubs.
Asked if Chelsea’ coaching staff had a sense of urgency to make the player feel valued in the aftermath of Bayern’s interest, Zola replied: “I disagree on that. He’s always on the edge of the team.
“As soon as there is an opportunity, he plays. Sometimes from the beginning. Sometimes he comes on.
“The manager is giving him plenty of reasons to feel involved and wanted. I want to stress this out: there aren’t many 18-year-olds in Europe playing as many games as he is. There might be one or two.
“He’s playing. And, on top of that, he’s a player we appreciate and we believe is growing up.
“He has a bright future in this club, the whole coaching group like him.
“Please, you need to understand that he’s surrounded by top players. You have to work hard to be better than them, and that’s what we want.
“We want him to play but also keep improving. He can still do better than he’s doing.”
Chelsea bounced back from last weekend’s 6-0 thrashing at Manchester City by securing a narrow 2-1 Europa League victory in Malmo on Thursday night.
However, Maurizio Sarri’s position as head coach remains in doubt, with the Blues facing a crucial run of fixtures.
Monday’s FA Cup tie with Manchester United is followed by Thursday’s Europa League last-32 second leg with Malmo and the February 24 Carabao Cup final with Pep Guardiola’s City.