Doughty Newport even deserved a goal or two themselves; while certainly their noisy supporters did. The big difference between the teams however was that extra class in front of goal; and in debutant striker Saido Berahino, the Baggies possessed that in spades. A cool finish, a rasping thunderbolt, and an equally nonchalant penalty kick earned the forward a first-half hat-trick that he’ll treasure. It might have been a completely different story however had Conor Washington converted an opportunity to level the scores at 1-1, after Harry Worley had sent the youngster racing clear.
West Brom were already a goal to the good at that stage, thanks to Berahino’s superbly flicked finish over the on-rushing Lenny Pidgeley after six minutes. A rotated County side that was missing skipper Pipe, not to mention the attacking strengths of Jolley and Zebroski staunchly refused to buckle; Minshull also going close as the Welsh side caused plenty of problems from set pieces.
The outstanding Andy Sandell was next to threaten for the Exiles, before Albion hit them with a classic sucker-punch on 26 minutes to double the advantage. It was some strike too; the dangerous Berahino cutting in from the right flank this time before smashing an unerring effort past Pidgeley and into the top corner from 20-yards. If that was a tad harsh on the visitors, it got worse when Worley conceded a soft penalty seven minutes before the interval; Berahino completing an impressive hat-trick with an assured finish.
Newport to their great credit never once allowed their heads to drop, whilst their magnificent support sang as if it were they who were three goals up. Further strikes could and probably should have come at both ends, but an engrossing second-half was destined to finish goalless after chances were spurned in equal measure. Nevertheless, it was still County’s night on a splendid evening that only served to emphasise just how far we’ve come as a club.
“Newport would have been disappointed to go in at half-time three-nil down” admitted Baggies boss Steve Clarke afterwards; “I think that flattered us, but we deserved to be in front. I liked their character second-half because they could have rolled over and conceded five or six; but instead they made us work very hard. I was impressed by them, they’re a good team.” County manager Justin Edinburgh said “We’ve been beaten by a Premiership side; we’ve played against International players in an unbelievable arena. We have to embrace the fact we’ve come a long way in a short space of time. I’m proud of my players; they acquitted themselves well and went right to the end, as I expect them to.”
“The support from our fans was fantastic” enthused County chairman Les Scadding; “The directors and chairman of West Brom turned around to us and said we get Premiership fans here, and they’re nowhere near as loud and appreciative of their players as your supporters were. That means so much to us and even at 3-0 down they kept singing. We were sad to lose, but it didn’t really matter about the result, it was a great occasion for everybody connected with the club. Our fans enjoyed themselves; they loved it and I loved every minute of it as well. I thank every one of those 1,700 fans from the bottom of my heart.”