Newport County AFC have qualified from the CheckaTrade Trophy group stages for the first time since the revamp of the competition in 2016 after a 2-0 victory over Plymouth Argyle.
County’s strike force on the day secured the victory for the Exiles as Antoine Semenyo and Mark Harris both struck in the first-half, meaning they finish second in the group behind Chelsea U21s.
That means the Exiles go into the draw for the first knockout round on Friday afternoon – with the potential opposition standing as Oxford United, Luton Town, Swansea City U21s or Cheltenham Town.
Mike Flynn elected to make five changes to the starting side that got through the tricky tie at Met Police FC in the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday.
The first of those changes saw goalkeeper Nick Townsend replace Joe Day, whilst Mark O’Brien replaced Mickey Demetriou in a four-man defence composed of David Pipe, Dan Butler and Fraser Franks.
Scot Bennett made a welcome return from a hamstring injury to partner Tyreeq Bakinson in the defensive midfield positions, coming in for Matty Dolan in the process, whilst Josh Sheehan played just in-front of that.
Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond were both partially given the night off when being named on the substitutes bench, Mark Harris and Antoine Semenyo coming in up-front alongside Robbie Willmott.
With their CheckaTrade Trophy fate already decided, Pilgrims manager Derek Adams made a full eleven changes to his Emirates FA Cup squad that defeated Stevenage thanks to a stoppage time winner.
Adams elected to hand debuts to scholars Ryan Law, Michael Peck and Adam Randall – whilst there were places in the starting side for experienced players Gregg Wylde and Ryan Taylor.
The qualification scene was as clear as crystal for the Exiles before kick-off, a victory was enough for them to go through to the last 32, whilst a scoreline of five or more was the requirements to secure top spot and a home draw in the first knockout round.
That script wasn’t quite kept to in the initial stages, however, as the visiting Pilgrims spent the opening 25 minutes in and around the County area.
Ryan Taylor, returning from injury, saw a header hit the roof of the net within about 80 seconds, whilst Gregg Wylde wasn’t far away on just five minutes.
The 27-year old Plymouth midfielder was certainly showing his experience early on and he almost outfoxed Nick Townsend when the County goalkeeper ventured off his goal line, although the ball rebounded back off the post after the attempt from 40 yards.
Antoine Semenyo’s sliced attempt started a good spell of possession for the Exiles and they capitalised on their ascendency when getting both goals before the half-time whistle.
The opener came after 35 minutes and was a reward to Semenyo for his sheer persistence with a twisting run. The striker skipped past three challenges and when Michael Peck showed him the space, the Bristol City loanee smashed past Kyle Letheren to give the Exiles the lead.
County’s second came just before the indication of the two additional minutes and was another reward for some superb play from the Exiles.
Mark Harris got in on the act this time, Robbie Willmott fighting his way towards the area before delivering a pinpoint delivery for the Cardiff City loanee to head low past the Plymouth goalkeeper.
Sandwiched between the goals, Scot Bennett had to unfortunately withdraw with what looked like a recurrence of his hamstring problem, being taken off as a precautionary measure, with Charlie Cooper coming on in his place.
Harris also had another good opportunity earlier in the half, whilst Dan Butler probably should have added to his season tally when firing over the crossbar from virtually underneath it.
More clever work from the Exiles down the right side just after the break proved County were starting the second-half intent on at-least giving it a go searching for the other three goals, and Butler was only denied by the crossbar with a glancing header.
On the hour, O’Brien also saw a header narrowly evade the far post and Butler put a volley wide of the post, as the Exiles were realistically the only side in the contest when searching to try and top the group.
Harris went for placement with twenty minutes to go but only found the palms of Letheren, whilst Bakinson’s shot shortly after looked to be going in until Peck through himself in the way of the attempt.
Tom Hillman was afforded his inaugural first-team minutes of the season with 12 minutes left to play, replacing the effervescent Bakinson, and he instantly moved to the right-wing position.
Owen Taylor also earnt his first minutes of the season when coming on for Willmott, in another excellent piece of news for the Newport County AFC academy setup.
Wylde again smacked the crossbar but there wasn’t too much else to report on for the final 10 minutes – County securing a safe passage to the knockout stages with a professional display at Rodney Parade.
Newport County AFC (4-2-3-1): Townsend, Pipe (C), Franks, O’Brien, Butler, Bennett (Cooper 38’), Bakinson (Hillman 78’), Harris, Sheehan, Willmott (Taylor 85’), Semenyo
Subs not used: Day, Amond, Matt
Plymouth Argyle (4-5-1): Letheren, Law, Grant, Peck, Smith-Brown, Randall, Wylde, Battle, O’Keefe (C) (Purrington 81’), Ainsworth (Fletcher 78’), Taylor (Dyson 74’)
Subs not used: Cooper, Lolos, Goulty, Garside
Referee: Brett Huxtable
Attendance: 962 (63 AWAY)
Next up for County: Colchester United (17th November 2018) HOME