Progression in another cup competition is another step in the right direction for Newport County AFC, according to midfielder Charlie Cooper.
The Exiles hosted Plymouth Argyle in the CheckaTrade Trophy knowing a victory would be enough to send them through to the knockout stages – and goals from Mark Harris and Antoine Semenyo secured a comfortable 2-0 success.
Semenyo’s fourth of the campaign came from sheer persistence by the Bristol City loanee before rifling a shot into the centre of the goal, whilst Harris timed his run to perfection to power a header into the bottom corner from Robbie Willmott’s cross.
Shortly before the opener, Cooper was brought off the bench after Scot Bennett picked up an injury, and he slotted in quite comfortably to the midfield three alongside Tyreeq Bakinson and Josh Sheehan.
Academy players Tom Hillman and Owen Taylor also came onto the field late on in the game for their inaugural first-team minutes of the campaign, playing their own part to see County out of the group stages for the first time since the revamp of the competition ahead of the 2016/17 campaign.
Here, you can read what Cooper exclusively told iFollow Exiles following the conclusion of the contest at Rodney Parade.
On CheckaTrade Trophy qualification after victory over Plymouth Argyle…
"As a team, the main thing was to get the victory and to go through to the next stage of the competition. Like the gaffer said really, it’s history for the club because it’s not been done before [getting out of the group stages.]
"That’s another little step in the right direction for the club and it shows we continue to progress.
"To be fair, the gaffer didn’t even mention it [the permutations for a home draw.] There was no talk of five goals, it was more about making sure we qualified because that is the main thing for the club.
"I thought Plymouth Argyle were a decent side, but we scored two good goals at an important time and thankfully we’re through to the next stage.
"The games will now be coming thick and fast and everyone has to be ready to go on the pitch and give it their all and perform to the best of their ability.
"I don’t think it matters who we draw in any cup competition really. You have to play the team that you get drawn against, we can’t affect that, and we just have to go wherever that is and do as best we can. Hopefully, we can progress even further."
On his own performance individually at Rodney Parade…
"Coming off the bench has happened to me a few times this season and it’s all about being ready and trying to start quick because you can then help the team straightaway.
"It is difficult to come off the bench, but I thought I played myself in quite well, but obviously not playing the last few weeks meant I still felt a bit not quite match fit.
"But I thought I did okay, and the main thing is that the team got through to the next stage of the competition.
"Yeah definitely, it’s nice to get praise [from Wayne Hatswell in his post-match.] These games give players time to play and show what they can do.
"The game against Chelsea U21s earlier in the competition, I thought we all did well there as well and the same again tonight.
"It puts trust in the manager I think that he can trust everyone on the pitch."
On the goals scored in South Wales and the fact two academy players were given an opportunity in the first-team fold…
"You can see what Antoine’s got, his physical presence is ridiculous for someone his age. His goal shows exactly what he’s about, pushing lads out of the way and sticking it in the back of the net.
"Antoine’s not given the goalkeeper a chance and then Sparky, nice little header by him and obviously a brilliant cross from Robbie as well which he’s proved he can provide every game.
"It shows the club is pushing in all of the right directions, something like that where two youth players are given the opportunity to come off the bench and play some first-team football is a massive experience for them.
"They’ll be buzzing to have made that step [again] and that’s credit to the gaffer and also to themselves for performing well enough.
"Everyone congratulated them in the changing room afterwards, they’ll go home to their families tonight proud and I think their families will be proud of them as well."
On hosting high-flying Colchester United on Saturday…
"It’s a massive game. They have good players and we’ll have to deal with whoever they put out on the pitch. I don’t think Colchester will expect to come here and win because they won’t underestimate what we can do.
"It’ll be a tough game, just like any other game in this league really, and I think the lads will be right up for it. Hopefully we can pick up the three points and begin pushing ourselves back up the table.
"We haven’t thought too much about Colchester yet to be honest. Everyone takes it game by game, no one gets ahead of themselves, everyone is quite calm within the squad and doesn’t look too much towards the future.
"Being at home is obviously a massive advantage. Every home game I’ve been involved in, or even watched from the side-lines, they’ve been great and really get behind the players.
"I think when teams come here, and we start off well and quick, it’s a really hard place to come and play. That’s credit to the fans really."
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