Boss gives Drysdale fitness verdict as County face defensive headache for Barrow

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The Exiles head to Cumbria to face the sixth-placed Bluebirds with the aim of hitting the manager’s target of 58 points to beat last season’s tally, and stay right in the mix for the play-offs.

County, in 11th, are just two points off seventh-placed AFC Wimbledon and have a game in hand on the Dons.

They are, however, stretched at the back with Stoke loanee Matt Baker on Wales Under-21s duty for their Euro 2025 qualifier with Lithuania at Rodney Parade on Friday night.

Captain Ryan Delaney, James Clarke and Josh Seberry are injured and that leaves County down to their last two fully fit central defenders.

Scot Bennett has moved back from midfield to the heart of the defence and Kyle Jameson has returned from a hip injury to slot in down the left.

Coughlan will either have to change to a flat four in Barrow or move a full-back to the middle, although he isn’t blessed with numbers in that department due to Shane McLoughlin’s absence with a calf injury.

Drysdale would be the natural replacement but the 24-year-old is not yet ready after his return from an injury suffered at the start of November.

The Merseysider has made three appearances off the bench but wasn’t in the matchday squad for last weekend’s 2-0 win in Wimbledon.

South Wales Argus: Declan Drysdale in action against Stockport for CountyDeclan Drysdale in action against Stockport for County (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“Declan is coming back from injury and needs to be handled correctly and looked after,” said Coughlan. “He is not ready to start a game, to go in [from the off] and compete.

“He played a game last week behind closed doors at Bristol Rovers and got a good 45 minutes under his belt. That was positive and he just needs to build on that.”

Drysdale did not feature on the bench at Plough Lane last week when right-back Harrison Bright, who has occasionally played in a central three, and academy prospect Nelson Sanca, an unused substitute 12 times this season, were the options along with left wing-back Matty Bondswell.

County are grateful that Jameson is stringing games together after a frustrating first campaign in Newport.

The 25-year-old suffered a hip injury in August and spent five months on the sidelines until making his return in February.

Jameson has started the last five fixtures and completed 90 minutes against both Morecambe and Wimbledon.

South Wales Argus: BACK: County defender Kyle JamesonBACK: County defender Kyle Jameson (Image: PA)

“Kyle is probably one that we have needed to take out and rest,” said Coughlan, a former centre-back himself.

“To just chuck him in after a long lay-off is dangerous and not conducive to maintaining fitness but we don’t have an awful lot of choice, he had to go in and play.”

The defender headed to Newport after having an injury-hit 2022/23 at Tranmere and Coughlan wants to get things right for next season.

“I would have liked Kyle to have a full pre-season and the first three months of the season to go and play every game, that’s what he needed,” said the manager.

“I suppose it’s looking, listening and learning to what his body is saying and having the right training programme and methods in place so that he can give us that pre-season and first three months, then he might be another one playing 50 games.”

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