ewport County return to TV action this Tuesday night as they embark on an all-or-nothing FA Cup fourth round replay against Middlesbrough. The winners will face a dream (or nightmare, depending on your point of view) tie at home to Premier Legaue champions Manchester City on February 16th.
The original fixture saw Tony Pulis' side take the lead shortly after half time through a Daniel Ayala header but Nick Townsend made numerous saves to keep the Exiles in it, before substitute Matt Dolan popped up with an equaliser with almost the last kick of the game. The former Boro youth player triggered jubilant scenes in the stands that day and will be looking to do the same again on Tuesday night for a crowd hoped to rival that of the Leicester City game in January.
County will be looking for a reaction after being humbled 3-0 by Grimsby Town on Saturday, a game in which the visitors had very little to shout about beyond the first ten minutes. Mike Flynn made five changes to the team that tasted defeat in Lincolnshire, resting players including Padraig Amond and Dan Butler for a game which could essentially make or break County's season.
Flynn was his usual honest self after the game, stating, "It was shocking. Terrible defending, we didn't track runners all afternoon; it was lazy defending." Very few came out of Saturday with a positive note to their name - Flynn continued to say "I thought Nick Townsend was very good, Tyreeq Bakinson was very good, Regan Poole and Jamille Matt - they were the only four to come out of that with any credit.
Middlesbrough come into the game on the back of a brilliant away win at West Bromwich Albion, coming from behind to triumph 3-2 over the Baggies. Britt Assombalonga bagged a pair of goals at The Hawthorns and he is undoubtedly the one that County's defence must be most aware of; the forward possesses all the attriubtes that has frequently seen him linked with Premier League moves and can breach defences in a blink of an eye.
While the gulf in league positions is vast, it must be remembered that County's cup run is bringing much more cash into the club than if they had been beaten in an earlier round. Getting through Tuesday would bring the prize money from the competition up to £180,000 plus the share of what would be at least three loads of TV money. This will be hugely important for the club moving forward.
Rodney Parade has been blessed to host many a big name club, and this Tuesday night is no different. And while we mustn't overlook the task in hand, the opportunity of facing arguably the best football team in Europe is one that every County player will be seeking; it's a once-in-a-lifetime fixture, making Tuesday's game arguably the biggest of the season so far . And we all know how the team step up when the chips are down - can they do it once more?
Prediction: A proper cup tie - this could be anything!
For those unable to make the game on Tuesday, I will be live-tweeting detailed updates from the game; be sure to follow me on @DanielFrazer7 for reaction and chat after the game.