Mike Flynn heaped praise on his entire Newport County AFC squad for putting destiny in their own hands in the CheckaTrade Trophy by rising to the top of the group with a comprehensive 3-0 victory over Chelsea U21s.
In an entertaining game contested to the highest quality by both sides, either team could have made the breakthrough after some intelligent and well-worked play, but it was County to strike first after 36 minutes.
Most of County’s forward thinking was coming down the right side, Tyler Forbes and Robbie Willmott particularly impressing when combining to beneficial effect, and when Willmott whipped an inviting delivery into the area, Matt was there to power home a header.
Chelsea U21s goalkeeper Jamie Cumming was probably disappointed to see the attempt slip through his fingers, beaten more due to the power of Matt’s header, but he was helpless to prevent the County attacker from getting his second just after the interval.
Willmott again provided the sublime assist, this time from a corner-kick, and Matt was again on hand to guide another header into the far corner despite the best attempts of the defender on the goal line.
That set up an interesting prospect at Rodney Parade – the Exiles needed just one more goal to leapfrog Chelsea U21s in the group table – and they found their third deep into stoppage time.
Substitute Antoine Semenyo got his second goal in County colours when beating Cumming with the precise placement of his strike, picking up the ball just inside the Chelsea U21s half, beating three players and picking his spot from 25 yards.
That completed an assured and confident display from the Exiles – something Flynn was quick to praise post-match.
He affirmed: “Yeah look, I thought the boys did fantastically well against a very, very good set of players, albeit younger players.
“With the facilities and finances that Chelsea have got, they’ll be the best youngsters around the country at that age. They [Chelsea U21s] played some really good football, especially second-half with their rotations and their movements.
“But we kept our shape really well and took our chances. It was pleasing.”
In truth, County could perhaps have been forgiven for ruing their luck at Rodney Parade as they constantly found sightings at goal throughout the contest.
Josh Sheehan thumped a shot from 25 yards back off the crossbar, Semenyo was denied twice by Cumming and also put another wide, whilst Robbie Willmott fired several balls across the face of goal that only required a touch to go into the back of the net.
Flynn continued: “It could have been [more comprehensive] but they also put a few good balls across the face of our goal. I put that down to the players defending, they cut the gaps and made it hard for them to break through the middle.
“They’ve got some very good quality, so it makes the win even better if I’m honest.
“You could see the quality that they have got for that age and they’ve got some very exciting footballers for the future.
“It’s a very good win and I’m pleased to get my first win in the CheckaTrade Trophy as a manager.”
In total, Flynn made nine changes to his starting side compared to the one he elected at Tranmere Rovers on the weekend.
Only defenders Tyler Forbes and Mark O’Brien kept their place, while the players called up to his squad included a first appearance of the season for both Lewis Collins and Jay Foulston.
On his team selection, Flynn stated: “It was always going to be tough tonight, but I thought some of our players were absolutely immense.
“Tyler Forbes was excellent, and Robbie Willmott must have put eight or nine balls in the box which were of the highest quality. If the boys were on the move first-half coming in at the back post, there would have been two tap ins at the back post straightaway.
“Lewis Collins and Jay Foulston won’t be used to that intensity and it will be a learning curve for them. They both haven’t played a great amount of football, so I had to take them off and I did want to change things up.
“Cameron Pring has done well, Mark Harris looked sharp again, Antoine could have scored four whilst he was on and I’m pleased for Jamille who’s now the club’s top scorer and I haven’t got a centre-back who is.”
With County returning to winning ways at Rodney Parade in convincing fashion, the side have now left destiny in their own hands heading into the final group game against Plymouth Argyle in November.
That means Flynn will have a selection headache to think about before the game – needing to decide whether to go with his full-strength squad for the game or again mix a blend including some of the younger players within the squad.
Flynn affirmed: “I’ve got to try and weigh up the finances of the football club, what it means to get a win, what it means to then try and do the right thing by the players because it doesn’t always pay off.
“I could have played the strongest team here tonight, won, and then everyone be tired for Saturday and lose on Saturday.
“I haven’t got a crystal ball, I don’t know all the answers to that but I’m trying to do what’s best for the football club in each aspect.
“Antoine was ill so that’s why he was on the bench, Jamille needed games, Robbie is suspended for the next two league games, so he had to play.
“Tyler Forbes wanted to keep on going, as did Mark O’Brien, Nick Townsend has started every cup game so far. Cameron Pring needed games, Mark Harris needed a little bit again, Josh Sheehan missed Saturday and Charlie Cooper as well.
“They need games because I’m going to need them this season. You look at it – we had Tyreeq sore calf, Antoine’s ill, Pipey’s ill, Mickey Demetriou stiff from when him and Mark O’Brien ran into each other at Tranmere.
“Although it was a so-called weakened team, I had no choice really with what I had available.”
Those injury concerns that Flynn alluded to mean he will have a few selection issues when the side welcome Cambridge United to South Wales on Saturday.
He will also have to see whether Jamille Matt recovers in time to feature, the striker limped off with an ankle problem last night, and doubts still remain over Andrew Crofts and Keanu Marsh-Brown.
On potential absentees, Flynn confirmed: “Andrew is still not right but he’s not far away. He’s big for us because he’s such an excellent captain around the changing rooms and is important with the way he speaks to the younger players and some of the older players as well.
“He’s played at the top level and it will be good to have Andrew back training with us.
“Keanu is also injured so that showed I didn’t have too many options. But fair play, the boys who came in I thought did very well.
“I don’t know on Jamille yet, but hopefully it’s not too bad.”