Mike Flynn says there were lots of positives to take from the trip to Cheltenham Town in the CheckaTrade Trophy – despite County being knocked out at the Second Round stage of the competition 7-6 on penalties after an initial 1-1 draw.
Flynn was able to freshen up the squad and give vital minutes to numerous members of his squad, making seven changes in all to the team that started at Wrexham AFC on Saturday.
But it was one of the players to maintain their spot in the starting side that had the biggest impact early on as Padraig Amond broke the deadlock after just 17 minutes.
Cameron Pring – a former development player at Cheltenham – worked the line well before drilling the ball across the area, Fraser Franks dummied the delivery and Amond smashed into the bottom corner from the edge of the area.
That brought up double figures for the Irishman individually this season and County almost got a second on the night when Mark Harris and Charlie Cooper both narrowly curled wide from good positions.
Cooper then Tyler Forbes both tested the palms of Robins goalkeeper Scott Flinders early in the second-half, but Cheltenham finally grew into the game and found an equaliser on 66 minutes.
A corner-kick from the right caused pinball in the area and when County failed on three occasions to clear, dangerman Alex Addai prodded home for his third cup goal of the season.
That meant with the sides level at full-time, penalty kicks would be required as County contested their first shootout for just over three years when they lost to Swindon Town 7-6 at Rodney Parade on 1st September 2015.
Unfortunately, history repeated itself as County again lost by that scoreline – 13 perfect penalties being converted before Flinders guessed right to deny Mark Harris and send Cheltenham through.
Flynn said: “It’s always a lottery when it goes to a penalty shootout. I thought it was a very high penalty session from both teams so look, it is what it is and we’re out of the competition.
“Yeah I think we should have won the game [in normal time.] But Cheltenham could have won it at the end as well when they hit the crossbar.
“I thought there were a lot of positives. The goal we gave away was terrible but there were loads of plus points. I thought it was a really good game, I really enjoyed it, we played some good football and I thought the two up-front absolutely murdered them.
“I thought young Jay Foulston did quite well, Nick did alright, and it was a good performance all round really. A lot of positives.”
The best piece of news in Gloucestershire arguably came twenty minutes before the end when Joss Labadie made his long-awaited comeback from injury.
The midfielder has missed nine months of action after damaging his anterior cruciate ligament – but he looked back to his old self against the Robins and converted one of the penalties.
Flynn continued: “Tyler came back in and had 65 minutes which was good. Obviously Joss came back, he’s fine after a good 20 minutes so a lot of positives.
“Joss has still got a long way to go but I won’t be putting any pressure on him. This was the first step of the final stage, scored a penalty, looked confident and I’m really happy.
“I’m not going to rush him. It’s good to get 20 minutes into his legs, he’s been training very hard with us but we’ve got to make sure he doesn’t pull up with any other injuries. It’s not the knee I’m worried about – it’s the knee or the hamstring or the calf. He needs to get back in solidly and when he’s right, he’ll be involved regularly.
“It will be slightly different [when he returns to League Two action] but I thought there was a high tempo in this game. Not quite ready to start yet.
“Hopefully we’ll have a few more back for Saturday as well.”