By Paul Jones
The Magpies boss praised County and opposite number Michael Flynn for another tenacious and inspired display which came so close to adding to the League Two club’s scalps of notable victims.
County led 1-0 in their Carabao Cup fourth round tie with just three minutes left before former Swansea City man Jonjo Shelvey equalised and the Premier League side went on to squeeze through on penalties.
“They defended with their lives at the end and it took a real bit of quality because, the way it was going, I didn’t think we would get the breakthrough,” said Bruce.
“You can see how they’ve beaten Swansea and Watford. They play a certain way for a lower-division team.
“They get the goal early and, as if they didn’t have enough belief, that gave them a bit more. They certainly had belief and we found it difficult against them – hats off to them.
“But we’re through. I thought we played well in the last half an hour.
“I don’t know if the lads enjoyed their cold showers at the end because there was no hot water. It’s not something they’re used to and it was quite amusing.”
County were so close after hanging on to their fifth-minute lead given to them after goalkeeper Mark Gillespie’s error handed Tristan Abrahams a bizarre opener.
But a stunning long-range strike from Shelvey spared Newcastle blushes as a 1-1 draw sent the tie to penalties, where Brandon Cooper blazed the decisive spot-kick over to send Bruce’s men through.
Yet it was another display which showed how Flynn has somehow quickly rebuilt a team that looks good enough to make a real push for promotion from League Two this season.
The man who masterminded wins over Watford, Leicester City, Leeds United and Middlesbrough in recent seasons, plus near misses against Tottenham and Manchester City, said: “I am very proud.
Just five minutes in and Abrahams fires Newport County ahead against Newcastle
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“I couldn’t be prouder if I tried. We were excellent and we have a fantastic group and it has taken a moment of magic to deny us.
“I know they had chances, but I thought we were brilliant and defended superbly. It’s a great group of lads.
“I’m a realist and I won’t get carried away. I know if we had won tonight it would have been a massive, massive upset.
“The players Newcastle brought on was a big compliment and they did have a fair bit of possession, but we kept our shape and composure. Jonjo Shelvey is the only player on the pitch who can put it in the top corner from that position.
“It’s easy to say now, but we should have gone in further ahead. It’s been a bugbear of mine we’re not killing teams off, but they are a great group and we will stick together.”
Swansea’s loan defender Brandon Cooper missed the game’s crucial penalty, but he had been superb over the course of the 90 minutes with three superb last-ditch tackles.
“I’ll not blame anyone for taking a penalty unless they try something stupid. He had the character to take one. The Newcastle players were very complimentary to the boys at the end,” Flynn said.
“It’s nice to win with class and their players were very good afterwards. I wouldn’t expect anything less from a Steve Bruce side. Nobody means to miss a penalty.”
It was advantage Newport early on in the shoot-out as Nick Townsend saved from Joelinton, but Gillespie’s save from substitute Ryan Taylor and Cooper’s wild effort handed the victory to the Magpies.
Newport earned £125,000 in crucial funds for the game being on TV, but it would have been slim consolation after this.
“We beat Swansea and Watford with no crowd and we put on another very good performance,” said Flynn. “We wish the fans were here not only because of the revenue we’ve missed out on, but because they are our 12th man.”
Newport host Mansfield Town in Sky Bet League Two on Saturday at 3pm, before Newcastle host Burnley on Saturday at 8pm.