Mike Flynn says he was pleased with aspects of Newport County AFC’s performance against League One outfit Oxford United in the Carabao Cup but couldn’t hide his disappointment towards the slow start at Rodney Parade.
The game was realistically taken away from the Exiles within the opening four minutes when the visitors scored twice after starting the contest in the driving seat.
Within two minutes they had their opener following some smart play on the left-side. Shandon Baptiste did well to skip two challenges and play the ball back inside for Luke Garbutt, the left-back’s drilled delivery across the area coming off Mickey Demetriou and looping over Nick Townsend in the County goal.
Before County had to time to settle, the U’s had doubled their lead with more intelligent play. This goal was all the work of Baptiste, the attacker netting his first senior goal after turning his man and rifling a shot into the top corner from just outside the area.
From there, County were able to get a foothold in proceedings but struggled to create any clear-cut chances, Fraser Franks and Jamille Matt both sending headers from corners just wide of the post.
Matt also saw a clever flick thwarted by away goalkeeper Jonathan Mitchell, that chance coming after Antoine Semenyo used his lightning pace to get towards the by-line and drill a cross into the danger area.
As the minutes ticked down at Rodney Parade, County had to throw everything at their League One counterparts to try and remain in the competition, but were ultimately caught on the counter-attack as Oxford put the result beyond any doubt in stoppage time.
Midfielder Gavin Whyte – easily Oxford’s best player from start to finish following a scintillating display – got the goal his performance deserved, looping a delivery into the area over Townsend as the U’s completed a routine victory.
The result means County’s quest for a place in the Third Round of the competition for the first time since 1962 continues, with the Exiles falling at this stage for the second successive season.
And while Flynn believes the Exiles were encouraging for the majority of the contest, he couldn’t hide his frustration at the game starting so badly for his side.
“You can’t start any game against a higher opposition like that,” he affirmed.
“It’s tough to come back from that in any game, but they’re not a bad side Oxford, in the league above and had a good win on Saturday.
“It was a terrible start from us but listen, between the two penalty areas, I thought we did quite well.
“Second half I thought we were the better team. We went chasing it in the end but unfortunately, we didn’t create too much tonight. Their third goal only comes really because we went chasing it.
“Look, it’s frustrating, and it was the way in which we started the game that basically killed it off.”
Before this match, the Exiles had been gradually building some momentum having picked up 10 points from the last 12 available in League Two.
And Flynn doesn’t believe this defeat will take anything away from everything good his side have been able to do in the opening month of the 2018/19 campaign
“Of course we do [learn more from a defeat,”] he continued.
“For example, their first goal, we had seven players in the box and they just had one. It was poor, but we’ll bounce back and go again.
“It’s not something that should happen [County losing momentum after some encouraging recent performances in League Two.]
“It was a cup game, a free shot tonight and like I said, there were a couple of good performances in there. Hopefully we can take that into Saturday.”
One of the positive points from the contest in South Wales was captain Andrew Crofts’ return to the first-team fold.
The 34-year old has been missing since the Crewe game with a toe injury, but was able to come back into the side and impressed on his return alongside Tyreeq Bakinson and Charlie Cooper in midfield.
On his captain, Flynn stated: “Crofty started a bit rusty to be fair to him but he got much better as the game went on.
“It’s always hard when you come back after a few weeks out and when you haven’t really trained. He’s a good professional, looks after himself, and he’s got to fight to get into the team.
“That’s what every player has to do who hasn’t got the shirt.”
One concerning point for the Exiles, however, was the potential injury picked up by striker Antoine Semenyo.
The Bristol City loanee was the unfortunate recipient of a hefty tackle from Jamie Hanson when contesting a 50/50 challenge, which resulted in the Oxford midfielder being awarded a straight red card.
And while Semenyo was taken off immediately with early signs of concussion, Flynn doesn’t believe he will be without his striker for too long.
“Antoine is okay,” he confirmed.
“He’ll be assessed now by the doctor but he’s alright. I think he had a bang on the head so he’s a bit groggy, we’ll have to see if he’s available for selection on Saturday or not."
On further team news, Flynn added: “Both of them [Matty Dolan and Mark Harris] had to come off on Saturday with little niggles but I’m hoping they should both be fine for the weekend.
“The only two I really rested was Joe Day and Padraig Amond. So, the others were forced changes and it’s down to the boys who came in to nail down the shirt.”
In all, Flynn made five changes to the side that ground out a hard-fought 1-0 victory over Grimsby Town on the weekend at Rodney Parade.
Semenyo and Charlie Cooper came in for their first competitive starts in a County shirt, while Nick Townsend was preferred in goal after a confident display in the First Round against Cambridge United.
Crofts and Jamille Matt were the other players to move back into the starting side, which also featured Bakinson and the usual back-five defensive unit.
Following the game, Flynn will now have more selection headaches to ponder ahead of facing Port Vale on Saturday.
The Valiants welcome County to Vale Park on Saturday as one of the four teams in League Two to still have a perfect home record and Flynn commented: “As I always do, I’ll have a look at what I’ve got, and I’ll pick the team that I think will beat Port Vale.
“There were a few decent performances tonight and a few that need to improve from tonight. I’m not going to get too disappointed, it was a bad start and like I said, if you take out the two penalty areas then I thought we held our own quite comfortably actually.”
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