Newport County AFC’s Emirates FA Cup adventure has to come to an end although they can be so proud of their efforts and desire in the 4-1 defeat to Manchester City at Rodney Parade.
County were glorious in defeat, no one could doubt they were working tirelessly for themselves, the manager and the crowd but this was just a step too far for them against the current Premier League champions.
You have to remember, this is a Manchester City side who this season alone have put seven past Rotherham, six past Chelsea, nine past Burton Albion and five past Cardiff City.
Padraig Amond kept his fine scoring run in the competition going by scoring for the fifth successive round with a beautiful lob two minutes from time, but Phil Foden got two alongside Leroy Sane and Riyah Mahrez to send the Citizens through.
You did everyone proud County. You were magnificent, humble and gave us all memories that will last for the rest of our lives. Thank you.
Ahead of the game, Mike Flynn went for the same team that defeated League Two automatic promotion contenders Mansfield Town last Saturday.
That meant the Exiles went for the familiar 3-4-1-2 formation at Rodney Parade and allowed Flynn to keep faith in the side that got the club to this stage with the victory over Middlesbrough earlier in the month.
Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola wasn’t taking any risks and came with a matchday 18 that cost over £600 million to bring them to the club.
Only Sergio Aguero was missing in terms of the notable names from the familiar players seen on Match of the Day and the starting line-up included players such as Riyad Mahrez, David Silva and Leroy Sane.
County’s first job in South Wales was to get in at the break at least level – they couldn’t afford to give a team like Man City anything for free – and despite only having 22% possession in the first-half, the Exiles went in at half-time probably disappointed not to be leading.
It was fitting that after a minutes applause for England World Cup winning goalkeeper Gordon Banks was impeccably observed, Ederson Moraes produced a save Banks would have been proud of when somehow repelling a header from Tyreeq Bakinson after 14 minutes.
If anything, the Bristol City loanee will still be kicking himself for not getting more power onto the attempt, although it still required a save right from the top drawer to keep it out.
Bakinson was also unfortunate not to pick the right pass when feeding Jamille Matt instead of Padraig Amond and Oleksandr Zinchenko cleared up the danger.
Other than that, County were restricted to half-chances up until half-time – Joss Labadie sent a half volley over the crossbar when at an acute angle, whilst when Amond did get in on goal he was unlucky to only find the side netting also from a tricky position.
It was never going to be anything other than quality from Manchester City, every first-touch was just different class and not what we’ve become accustomed to seeing in League Two and it was mesmerising how they could first move into space and also find their team-mates.
But County’s defensive pride, heart and courage was on show throughout and they actually soaked up a lot of the play and the Citizens at times had to take shots from distance which suited the Exiles.
Joe Day made smart saves to deny Riyad Mahrez on two occasions – who was afforded too much space throughout the game and was a constant menace all the time – before a good stop in first-half stoppage time to thwart Danilo.
When they did carve County apart it was beautiful to watch, the little Spanish magician of David Silva - definitely the greatest ever player to wear a Manchester City shirt - was a real craftsman at work and Leroy Sane should have done better than chip over the top when the City captain sent him clean through.
The dancing feet of Mahrez were also mesmerising to watch, the holding midfielders just knew when and where to find him after keeping the ball and County could take no shame in saying that the Algerian had the freedom of the right-flank but fortunately couldn’t find the target.
As well as the two saves to keep him out, Mahrez fired wide from distance on a further three occasions, as did Fernandinho twice, Sane and Phil Foden.
Just 21 months ago, County were 60 seconds from leaving the Football League and finding themselves back in the wilderness of non-league, so it was unbelievable to witness County going toe to toe with Manchester City and doing themselves proud in the process.
Every single Exiles player was simply unreal, true warriors with their sheer heart and determination, and they didn’t look out of place on a pitch where some players cost £50 million – although Amond, Labadie and Mark O’Brien were the standout performers if I had to choose.
But they were ultimately facing a Guardiola team sat atop of the Premier League and going for the unprecedented quadruple.
Their class, quality, finances, everything really was always going to shine through in the end and they started to break County hearts with the opener after 51 minutes of an enthralling contest.
It was frightening how quick they managed to get the ball from end to the other – six passes was what it took for the ball to go from Ederson to Sane in a blistering move and the German just about saw his shot creep over the line despite the best efforts of Day.
The next ten minutes from that point were always going to be critical if County were to have any chance of a comeback, they couldn’t be cast further adrift, and Danilo hit the post before seeing another attempt saved well by Day.
County managed to reach 65 minutes just the one goal behind, but they struggled to regain any form of ascendency in terms of an attacking sense, although almost profited when Ederson got a little too comfortable with the ball at his feet and Matt nearly stole in.
A second goal was always going to knock the stuffing out of any potential County comeback and the tie was put beyond question on 75 minutes when City doubled their lead.
Phil Foden is one player that will grace the England jersey very soon and probably keep it for a decade, a real star in the making, and he fired through Day after dancing his way from inside his own half and past the numerous County challenges.
This is a Manchester City side that look like putting double figures on most Premier League teams, so it then became a damage limitation job with the Citizens happy to keep the ball and move forward at their leisure.
Jesus was the next player to wow the crowd with his dancing footwork before being denied by Day, whilst Foden also sent a shot wide.
But there is just something about this County side that will never, ever give up and after substitute Aymeric Laporte put too little on a header back to his goalkeeper, Amond nipped in to make a real game of it with a perfectly executed lob.
That meant Amond kept up his scoring run of netting in each round of this season's competition and virtually out of nowhere, County were gifted a golden chance.
So gutting then when the grandstand finish was so near to be completed that City went straight back down the other end and scored within 60 seconds of the restart to definitely confirm their passage into the Quarter Finals.
City are a simply wonderful team to watch and Foden got his second which the performance from the Englishman deserved when more intricate play saw him smash home from 15 yards.
If any player was to challenge Foden for the Citizens man of the match it was Mahrez and he put the added gloss on the victory when mimicking Foden’s second with a goal of his own from the last kick of the contest.
County didn’t deserve to concede the fourth, they were valiant from the first to the last whistle, but this was just a step too far as they fell to the current champions of England at Rodney Parade.
Newport County AFC (3-4-1-2): Day, Butler, Demetriou, O’Brien (C), Poole, Willmott, Bakinson (Sheehan 61’), Bennett (Franks 86’), Labadie (Dolan 68’), Matt, Amond
Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Marsh-Brown, McKirdy
Manchester City (4-2-3-1): Ederson, Zinchenko, Stones, Otamendi, Danilo, Fernandinho (Laporte 78’), Mahrez, Sane, Foden, D.Silva (C) (Gundogan 80’), Jesus
Subs not used: Muric, Walker, Sterling, De Bruyne, B.Silva
Referee: Andre Marriner
Attendance: 9,680 (1,662 AWAY)
Next up for County: Notts County (19th February 2019) AWAY