Two headers from Jamille Matt and a late finish from Antoine Semenyo were enough for Newport County AFC to keep their CheckaTrade Trophy hopes alive as they won their first match in the competition for 22 months with a 3-0 victory against Chelsea U21s.
In an entertaining game contested with intent by both sides, Matt struck in either half after crosses both times from Robbie Willmott and Semenyo scored in added time as County moved into top spot in the group table and left destiny in their own hands heading into the final group game with Plymouth Argyle in November.
Mike Flynn elected to make nine changes from the side that kept County in the automatic promotion places with a hard-fought and gritty 1-0 victory at Tranmere Rovers.
Defenders Tyler Forbes and captain Mark O’Brien retained their place from the side in Merseyside, making up the defensive unit of a 4-4-2 formation with Cameron Pring and Jay Foulston – who made his inaugural first-team appearance of the season.
Lewis Collins also came in for his first minutes of the 2018/19 campaign, starting up-front with Jamille Matt, whilst Robbie Willmott and Mark Harris provided the wing support.
As is familiar in cup matches, Nick Townsend started in goal and the team was completed by the inclusions of Charlie Cooper and Josh Sheehan.
Chelsea U21s made three changes from the side that sent them joint top of the Premier League 2 table with a 2-1 victory at West Ham United U21s.
Charlie Brown, Juan Castillo and Tariq Lamptey all dropped to the bench in a 3-5-2 formation, being replaced by Martell Taylor-Crossdale, Ian Maatsen and Richard Nartey respectively.
In a highly competitive first-half at Rodney Parade, both sides created a couple of chances but County were the only side able to profit from that by taking a slender lead into half-time.
It was in-fact Chelsea U21s who started the quicker, Martell Taylor-Crossdale and Daishawn Redan particularly impressive with their dynamic quick-feet upfront, and it required the best efforts of Forbes to stop Redan’s cross reaching his strike partner.
Josh Sheehan looked a class above going forward when mesmerising the Chelsea defence and he registered the first shot on target after 14 minutes, but it was well held by Chelsea U21s goalkeeper Jamie Cumming.
An error from Nick Townsend when failing to hold on to an overhit pass almost cost County when Taylor-Crossdale fired towards goal, but Tyler Forbes had fortunately smelt the danger to get back on the goal line and clear.
Both sides were entertaining with their quick-feet and endeavour when putting together a succession of passing, Robbie Willmott, Forbes and Lewis Collins combining on the right-side, but Willmott’s cross was superbly dealt with by Chelsea U21s captain Josh Grant.
You could sense a goal was coming, it was more about which side would break the deadlock, and it was County to find the net after 36 minutes.
Forbes and Willmott were combining well throughout the entirety of first-half proceedings but this time it proved crucial, Matt getting on the end of Willmott’s cross to head home the opener.
In truth, Chelsea U21s goalkeeper Jamie Cumming was probably ruing his luck as the header was straight at him before slipping through his fingers, but there was nothing he could do two minutes later but admire Sheehan rattling the crossbar from 25 yards.
One further chance could be created during the additional one minute added time, but Taylor-Crossdale was stopped in his tracks by an expertly timed tackle from O’Brien.
The stand in County captain – and Forbes for that matter – were both instrumental in sending County in at the break in-front, the defensive duo reading the game to perfection and putting in at-least five decisive interventions in the first-half.
But the link-up play up-front was also just as impressive and County reaped the benefits when doubling the advantage two minutes after the restart.
It was a second on the night for Matt and a second assist for Willmott, the County frontman rising highest to a corner to power home a header across goal that again Cumming would have been disappointed about conceding.
The game seemed to fizzle out as neither side could create too much more as proceedings entered their final 20 minutes, but Charlie Brown almost had the desired effect after his introduction when squaring for Redan, but the Chelsea U21s frontman couldn’t connect.
Chelsea U21s then reverted to the spectacular to try and get back into proceedings, Brown tried an overhead kick but again found the menacing figure of O’Brien in the way, whilst Redan tried a rabona cross that Townsend flapped clear.
Willmott was still at his energetic best heading into the final ten minutes and his crosses were still creating problems, although substitute Antoine Semenyo went for goal himself rather than leaving it for the onrushing Harris and he scuffed his lines.
County continued to search for a third goal that would send them above the Chelsea side and into the top spot in the group and they got their desired goal in the second minute of stoppage time.
Semenyo picked the ball up just inside the halfway line, turned three players and proceeded to fire an attempt into the bottom corner from 25 yards.
That was the final chance of note at Rodney Parade as County returned to winning ways at home with a composed display against Chelsea U21s.
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Townsend, Pring, O’Brien (C), Foulston (Semenyo 78’), Forbes, Willmott, Cooper, Sheehan, Harris, Collins (Butler 65’), Matt (Amond 89’)
Subs not used: Day, Franks, Bennett, Demetriou
Chelsea U21s (3-5-2): Cumming, Grant (C), Colley, Nartey, Guehi, Maatsen (Lamptey 68’), McEachran, Uwakwe, Gilmour (Gallagher 73’), Redan, Taylor-Crossdale (Brown 65’)
Subs not used: Ziger, Castillo, Masampu
Referee: Kevin Johnson
Attendance: 1,525 (53 AWAY)
Next up for County: Cambridge United (29th September 2018) HOME