Lamar Reynolds scored his first competitive goal for Newport County AFC in the 2-1 defeat to Cheltenham Town in the CheckaTrade Trophy.
The visitors were two goals to the good within the opening 11 minutes through goals from Brian Graham and Harry Pell.
Graham scored just 71 seconds into the contest, sending a looping header over James Bittner from just outside the six-yard area following Kevin Dawson’s delivery.
Harry Pell doubled the advantage in the 11th minute after following up Bittner’s save from Graham to fire home through a crowd of bodies from the edge of the area.
But Reynolds pulled a goal back just three minutes into the second-half with a chipped finish from just inside the area after a sublime through ball from attacking partner Joe Quigley. It was his first goal as a professional footballer and a just reward for his man-of-the-match performance, as chosen by the Newport County AFC Subscription Draw.
No equaliser could be found despite consistent County pressure late-on as the Exiles exited the group-stages following three defeats.
Mike Flynn elected to make ten changes to the side from the 2-1 victory over Walsall on the weekend with only Dan Butler keeping his place.
And that meant Flynn gave a rare chance to players from the U18s Academy.
Evan Press, Tom Hillman and Lewis Collins made their competitive first-team debuts, while Academy captain Jay Foulston, who has made two appearances already this term, also started. Owen Taylor was named on the bench.
Marlon Jackson also made his first appearance of the season after recovering from the hamstring injury sustained in pre-season, as he started up-front with Lamar Reynolds and Joe Quigley.
James Bittner started the night in goal, while Dan Butler and Scot Bennett returned to the defence. Sean Rigg made up the side who set up in a 4-3-3 formation.
Cheltenham Town manager Gary Johnson made just the four changes to his side that lost to Maidstone on Saturday.
Dan O’Shaughnessy and Will Boyle both made returns to the defence, while Jerrell Sellars came into the midfield and Freddie Hinds started up-front.
That meant the Robins lined up in a 4-4-2 formation from the off and they were ahead within two minutes.
After Press had brought down Pell on the right-hand side touch-line, Robins striker Brian Graham rose highest from the free-kick to loop a header over Bittner.
Reynolds tried to instigate an immediate response with a mesmerising run from left wing just three minutes later. He skipped two challenges during the 40-yard sprint before delivering a cross that forced Robins captain for the day Jamie Grimes to head clear. Nothing came of the resulting corner.
Hillman drifted past four challenges shortly after, although hit the ball a little bit too far in-front of him and allowed Will Boyle to clear any danger.
And it wasn’t too long before the Robins doubled their advantage as Harry Pell scored on 11 minutes.
Bittner made a fantastic save to deny Graham from getting his second of the night, although the clearance only fell on the edge of the area to Pell, who fired home despite the best efforts of two County players on the line.
Jackson forced a save from Flinders shortly after for County’s first shot on target of the night on the quarter-of-an-hour as the Exiles looked for a route back into the contest.
On 20 minutes, Sellars smacked the crossbar with a piledriving 25-yard strike, while Reynolds shot just wide following another mazy run for County just after.
That was all for the entertainment until the 33rd minute, as Jackson made a sublime nutmeg on Taylor Moore before waltzing his way into the area and forcing the corner. Lewis Collins’ shot landed on the top of the net from the delivery.
Reynolds, who was causing havoc to Carl Winchester for the entirety of the first half, came close to finding a route back into the game on 40 minutes. His cross fizzed across the goalmouth and Quigley was unlucky to not get a touch to it.
The indication of one additional minute didn’t see any further chances created by either side as the Robins went in at half-time with a two-goal advantage.
It would be fair to say from the first-half that after a slow first 12 minutes, County suddenly got into the game, expressed themselves and created problems to the Robins.
Reynolds was the stand out man in the opening 45 minutes, causing consistent problems with his quick-feet and with a bit more composure could have reduced the deficit.
All the youngsters selected seemed accustomed to first-team proceedings and were showing real potential alongside their first-team compatriots.
And within three minutes of the restart, Reynolds got the Exiles back into the contest after a fluid County move.
It was his first competitive goal for County and also first as a professional and it all came from a chipped finish over away goalkeeper Scott Flinders from just inside the area after a stunning splitting pass from Quigley.
From there to the hour-mark, County were certainly controlling the game and were unlucky to not create any further clear-cut chances. Quigley and Jackson were both found in the area but couldn’t find the space under intense defensive pressure to work a shot.
Robins substitute Mo Eisa, who came on at half-time, drilled a speculative shot wide on 63 minutes, before firing straight at Bittner from a similar distance two minutes later.
From a goal-mouth scramble, Lewis Collins almost got a debut goal with twenty minutes to go, only to be denied by a super stop from Flinders. First, Jackson had a shot saved, Collins followed it up, but could only fire straight at Flinders. Either side of the keeper and it may have gone in.
Immediately afterwards, Owen Taylor came on for his County debut after replacing Jackson, who had worked extremely hard on his first 70 minutes of action after a three-month injury layoff.
Pell hit the post with 15 minutes to go, before Eisa curled wide of the far post just after.
Padraig Amond replaced Quigley with ten minutes to go, as Bittner was forced into a good save to deny Dawson.
Two minutes of additional time were indicated at the end of the game. But despite heavy pressure from the Exiles late on, no equaliser could be found as the side suffered a third consecutive defeat in this season’s CheckaTrade Trophy.
Despite the defeat, the academy boys could be proud of their performances on their competitive debuts, who are all certainly stars of the future.
County: Bittner, Butler, Bennett (C), Foulston, Hillman, Rigg, Collins, Press, Reynolds, Jackson (Taylor 70’), Quigley (Amond 80’)
Subs not used: Day, Pipe, Tozer, McCoulsky, Demetriou
Cheltenham: Flinders, Grimes, Boyle, O’Shaughnessy, Moore, Winchester, Pell, Dawson, Sellars, Graham (Eisa 45’), Hinds (Storer 67’)
Subs not used: Flatt, Bower, Davey, Atangana, Lloyd
Referee: Simon Hooper
Attendance: 540 (39 away)
Next up for County: Port Vale (10th November) 7:45 Kick-Off HOME