Newport County AFC assistant manager Wayne Hatswell believes it is a sign of how strong the Exiles are this season that they set a new piece of history at Rodney Parade with victory over Plymouth Argyle in the CheckaTrade Trophy.
Since the revamp of the competition ahead of the 2016/17 campaign, County had never qualified from the group stages and had only amassed three points from the previous 18 available, but qualification was secured with a 2-0 victory over the Pilgrims.
In a game that saw academy players Tom Hillman and Owen Taylor given their inaugural first-team run outs of the campaign, County wrapped up the points inside the opening half of the contest.
With Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt rested, the Exiles strike-duo of Mark Harris and Antoine Semenyo certainly put their names forward for a starting berth, with goals on 35 and 45 minutes respectively.
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.
It wasn’t quite the five-goal margin County required to top the group ahead of Chelsea U21s, but it saw them safely through to the knockout stages – something Hatswell praised post-match.
He affirmed: “We’re down to a bit of the bare bones but I think we went quite strong tonight and put in a good performance - and you can add that to the weekend as well.
“It’s been two positive results for the club, especially the financial side of things, which is important for us. We’re all pleased and fully aware that we’ve now got a tough few weeks.
“We’ll be back to back, playing Saturday Tuesday for the next few weeks. We’ve got quite a few players gathering upstairs in the treatment room as well and we’ve had a big blow with Benno coming off after half hour. That’s probably dampened the night really.”
The big disappointment for the Exiles on the night was the loss of Bennett midway through the first-half, with the defender forced off with a recurrence of his hamstring injury.
Bennett had been missing since the draw with Morecambe on 13th November through the same problem and Hatswell is hoping this spell on the side-lines won’t be too prolonged.
He continued: “He’s down in the dumps in there but he’ll come back and hopefully come back a bit stronger as well.
“It looks like the same hamstring. He trained yesterday so it is a tough one, I couldn’t really see how he did it, but it looked like a coming together. Up until then, I thought he was back to his old best and we’re going to miss him, and I just hope it’s not for too long.
“We’ll re-assess him tomorrow, hopefully it’ll calm down and it might not be as bad as it may look at the moment.
“Benno going down did give Charlie Cooper a chance and I thought Charlie came in and did quite well. Coops has been ill almost all this week as well so all of a sudden, those midfield places are back up for grabs.
“Same with Mark O’Brien, he came back in and did well, we’ve obviously been pleased to have Fraser Franks back in. Players are stepping in and doing well and that’s all we can ask for really.
“We have got people coming back who can hopefully step into his place.”
The victory does mean the Exiles progress into the knockout stages of the CheckaTrade Trophy at the expense of Swindon Town.
They will go on the road for the first knockout game, with the opposition decided during the draw at 1pm tomorrow. Find out more here.
“It doesn’t matter who we get drawn to play,” added Hatswell.
“I know it’s a cliché, but we just want to take one game at a time because really, that’s like trying to prepare for a game before it actually happens.
“We just need a little bit of time to get a few personnel back and hopefully the likes of Labadie, Crofts, Tyler Forbes will be coming back into the equation soon.
“Pringy will be training with us again tomorrow so we’re trying to get a few players back. Every game coming up, whether it’s home or away, they are always going to be tough. But we need everyone available really.”
In further team-news for the upcoming weeks, Hatswell was also able to provide an update on experienced midfield duo Joss Labadie and Andrew Crofts.
He confirmed: “Both are coming back into the fray with us training wise which is a huge positive and then hopefully we can give them some game time.
“Like you’ve seen, there is an opportunity for them and that might actually be the marker for them to return, whoever we get in the next round of this competition.
“That would give them a game set in sight as such, but we’ll have to see how the next few weeks go.
“When we’ve got everyone available, we’re a good squad that fights for each other. We’ve had to play players out of position at times, but the players understand they are doing it for the good of the team.”
In terms of the game against the Pilgrims at Rodney Parade, Hatswell had nothing but praise for the two County goal scorers.
He stated: “They’ve been great – they are great lads to have around the place. Sparky has been in and out because of international duty, Antoine has been a handful and is a great lad to work with.
“Antoine’s got such raw ability, I’d like him to start hitting the target a little bit more but when he does, you can see that he can score goals.
“He’s got a bright future as well as Sparky, they’ve been getting game time with us which is good, and it’ll be good to see them coming in tomorrow with a smile on their faces because they’ve contributed to the team going forward.”
Influential midfielder Robbie Willmott picked up another assist against Plymouth when providing the inch perfect pass for Harris’ goal, and he was another to receive some praise post-match.
Hatswell said: “When Robbie plays in that shape, he gives us that width and full-backs then become reluctant to get out to him because they know he can go either way.
“When he does, you can see the amount of goals he creates with his left foot crosses as well as his right foot delivery.
“He’s a joy for a centre forward to have, Podge has proved that in the past and so has Jamille. When he plays in that position, he’s a lot more of a threat for us going forward. On his day, he’s unplayable.”
The comfortable victory over the League One outfit at Rodney Parade twinned with the Emirates FA Cup victory over Met Police FC puts County in high spirits before hosting high-flying Colchester United on Saturday.
“We’ve got a huge game on Saturday,” stated the County assistant manager.
“Hopefully we get a good crowd, Colchester are going well so hopefully we can get a good, positive result from Saturday.
“We’re really looking forward to it as a group in there because we want to be playing teams like that who probably think they can come to Rodney Parade and win.
“Sometimes we’re a little bit better when we’re the underdog at home and I think that will play into our hands. We want to get back to winning ways in League Two and we want a big crowd through the door getting behind us.”
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