It was penalty shootout delight again for Newport County AFC as they progressed to the Second Round of the Carabao Cup with a 4-1 success after a 2-2 draw against League One Gillingham.
In the most extraordinary games of football for a long time, four penalties were awarded in normal time including one each for both sides in stoppage time to round off a crazy contest.
Tristan Abrahams’ neat finish and Padraig Amond’s last gasp penalty set County on their way, while Brandon Hanlan and Mikael Ndojli both scored spot kicks for Gillingham – and Hanlan also missed one at 1-0.
Manager Michael Flynn decided to make a host of changes for this Carabao Cup encounter – nine in total compared to the starting side against Cambridge United on Saturday – with only Kyle Howkins and Matty Dolan retaining their place.
Five players came in for their competitive debuts at Priestfield Stadium, namely Daniel Leadbitter, Lazar Stojsavljevic, George Nurse, Taylor Maloney and Corey Whitely – who impressed during the pre-season schedule.
Nick Townsend and Mark O’Brien were both afforded their first minutes of the 2019/20 campaign while Scot Bennett and Tristan Abrahams completed the County line-up.
Gillingham manager Steve Evans decided to only make three changes to his midfield as the squad otherwise remained the same from the defeat against Burton Albion on Saturday – ex-Exile Mark Byrne was one of the trio brought back into the side.
And it showed that the Gills made less changes to their starting side as they bossed all the proceedings up until half time, with County failing to get going in Kent and only producing one shot on target inside the opening 45 minutes.
The first Gills chance came on four minutes. A deep free kick caused pinball in the Exiles area, Ndjoli controlled it ten yards out but slipped on the turn and his shot drifted narrowly wide.
Hanlan saw a shot blocked well by Nurse on 20 minutes before Gillingham kept on coming and they hit the base of the post just a minute later from a curling effort by Regan Charles-Cook.
Charles-Cook was the architect of everything good by the home side and there was no surprise that he was involved in the opener after 25 minutes.
More trickery from the midfielder on the right flank saw him cut inside Nurse and into the penalty area where Bennett illegally fouled him for a spot kick. Nick Townsend tried his best to thwart Hanlan, but it squirmed under his body and into the bottom left corner.
Flynn was clearly not too happy with what he had seen in the opening half hour and he decided to make a tactical substitution to try and gather some ascendency. Stojsavljevic was sacrificed for Padraig Amond in a change to the more familiar 4-1-2-1-2 formation.
But it didn’t do too much to stop the Gillingham attacks and without the inspirational performance from Townsend, County would have been going back to the dressing room trailing by more goals.
He did get a hand to Hanlan’s penalty and was unlucky to see it go underneath his body, but he was definitely equal to Alex Jakubiak’s curled strike after the striker peeled off to the edge of the area.
Townsend was called into action again with just a minute to go before the interval. Charles-Cook was again mesmerising on the right side, his cross found Hanlan, but the shot stopper got down low to his left side to lift the header over the crossbar.
Whatever Flynn said at half time seemed to work because County came out of the traps with much more intent and Whitely, Amond and Dolan all traded shots just past the post before the 50th minute.
The ascendency appeared to have changed in Kent, but County almost shot themselves in the foot when on top as Howkins conceded a soft penalty for a nudge on Hanlan in the 56th minute. This time, however, Townsend saved the spot kick with his feet as Hanlan attempted to go down the middle.
Gills defender Connor Ogilvie flashed a header just past the upright from a superb corner kick, but the Exiles were always going to take confidence from Townsend’s heroics when coming back at the home side.
There was a barrage of attacks coming from County even if Gillingham did well to nullify most of the threat – Ogilvie heading back virtually everything – but there was more of a threat and Dolan twice fired just wide.
On the counterattack, Gillingham should have put the game to bed with eight minutes to play. After throwing everyone up for a free kick, Hanlan was allowed the freedom of Priestfield to venture forward but Townsend made another stunning stop to repel the attempt.
The longer the game stayed 1-0, the more chance County had, and they finally found their equaliser with 84 minutes of the clock. Dolan swung the free kick in, and Abrahams opened his account in County colours by darting to the front post and sliding home the equaliser.
Then came one of the most extraordinary ends to a football match ever seen in the Carabao Cup. Right at the start of three minutes stoppage time, Howkins was adjudged to have fouled Byrne in the box. Mikael Ndjoli coolly slotted it away in what looked to be the winner.
But in even more dramatic circumstances, County earnt themselves a spot-kick – the fourth on the night – after Leadbitter was pulled back while trying to turn and shoot with the final play of the game. Amond had no problems converting it to send the contest amazingly to penalties.
And if Townsend hadn’t already earnt the man of the match award then he certainly did in the shoot-out, repelling two Gillingham penalties as the Exiles progressed 4-1.
✔️ Josh Sheehan to the top right
❌ Alfie Jones saved by Nick Townsend to the bottom left corner
✔️ Padraig Amond to the bottom left corner
✔️ Mikael Mandron down the middle
✔️ Mickey Demetriou to the bottom left corner
❌ Mark Marshall saved by Nick Townsend to the top right
✔️ Tristan Abrahams to the bottom right corner
Newport County AFC (3-1-4-2): Nick Townsend, Daniel Leadbitter, Mark O’Brien (C) (Mickey Demetriou 90+3’), Lazar Stojsavljevic, Kyle Howkins, George Nurse, Taylor Maloney, Scot Bennett (Josh Sheehan 80’), Matty Dolan, Corey Whitely, Tristan Abrahams
Subs not used: King, Haynes, McNamara, Ekpiteta
Gillingham FC (4-4-2): Jack Bonham, Lee Hodson, Max Ehmer (C), Connor Ogilve, Barry Fuller, Alfie Jones, Mark Byrne, Regan Charles-Cook (Henry Woods 90+2’), Mikael Ndjoli, Alex Jakubiak (Mark Marshall 70’), Brandon Hanlan (Mikael Mandron 85’)
Subs not used: Walsh, O’Keefe, List, Tucker
Referee: Trevor Kettle
Next up for County: Plymouth Argyle (17th August 2019) HOME