Michael Flynn didn’t pick himself to play against Brighton U21 at the Amex Stadium, but he should be proud of the team he did put out on the pitch for the second round tie in the Leasing.com Trophy.
Four days after travelling to deepest, darkest Essex and pinching a 1-0 FA Cup win courtesy of a 91st minute goal from Padraig Amond, they struck even later on the south coast to go through to the third round 5-4 win on penalties, following a goalless draw.
Shooting first, the County players held their nerves to beat former Team GB Olympic and England U21 goalkeeper Jason Steele with all five attempts:
Abrahams (County) 1-0; Davies (Brighton) 1-1; Haynes (County) 2-1; Cashman (Brighton) 2-2; Matt (County) 3-2; Gwargis (Brighton) 3-3; Maloney (County) 4-3; Yapi (Brighton) 4-4; Nurse (County) 5-4; Tolaj (Brighton) Miss – Newport win 5-4
The crucial miss came from the home side’s second half substitute striker Lorent Tolaj, who blasted over Tom King’s goal with the vital 10th penalty in an otherwise faultless sequence and it was the Exiles who took the spoils against all the odds.
With a lengthy injury list, Flynn – who was considering a cameo comeback at the age of 39 – made eight changes to the side that had battled through to the third round of FA Cup at Maldon and Tiptree on Friday night.
The only survivors were Matty Dolan, Jamille Matt and Dom Jefferies, although Flynn stopped short of bringing himself out of retirement at the home of the Premier League club.
He did, however, give 16-year-old Joe Woodiwiss a chance to shine alongside skipper Dolan in the middle of a makeshift back four. Flynn’s young side certainly rose to the occasion and looked every inch as capable as the home team, who had cruised into the knock-out stages without a defeat.
Chances were few and far between in the opening half, although the returning King, back in goal for County after his first international call-up by Wales, made one important save from Danny Cashman that ensured the scores were still level at the break.
Cashman had earlier landed an attempted lob of King on the roof of the net, although County also had their moments through Lewis Collins and Dominic Poleon.
The visitors had George Nurse booked in the 24th minute and then saw Jamille Matt follow him into the book three minutes into the second half.
County may have held the upper hand in the first-half, but the better chances fell to Brighton after the break. Romaric Yapi volleyed just over, Jordan Davies fired over a free-kick and then the dangerous Cashman hooked another shot onto the roof of the net.
As time moved on, and the tension rose, the action became more and more frantic and Matt was denied by Jason Steele in the home goal five minutes from the end of normal time and then a header from Nurse was brilliantly saved in the 89th minute.
County threw the kitchen sink at their hosts in the final five minutes, but simply couldn’t find a way to score in normal time and the game ended without a goal and went to penalties.
Brighton U21 : Steele; O’Hora, Baluta, Roberts (Richards 56); Yapi, Jenks, Cochrane (captain), Gwargis; Davies; Cashman, Radulovic (Tolaj 68)
YC: Davies 58
Subs Unused: Vukoje, Leonard, Keto, Freestone, Tsoungui
Newport County: King; McNamara, Woodiwiss, Dolan (captain, Haynes 85), Nurse; Whitely (Abrahams 75), Jefferies, Maloney, Collins; Poleon (Evans 84), Matt
YC: Nurse 24, Matt 48
Subs Unused: Townsend, Hillier, Jones, Inniss