Words fail me. Game of the season, game of some of these players careers as Newport County AFC and Cheltenham Town played out an absolute thriller at the Jonny Rocks Stadium as the Exiles won a dramatic game 7-4 to keep their Leasing.Com Trophy hopes alive.
Taylor Maloney and Tristan Abrahams scored sublime hat-tricks and Matty Dolan converted a penalty in one of the best games ever witnessed in Gloucestershire or perhaps anywhere in the world.
Tim Thraves said on commentary that he never thought he’d commentate on a game like this, I never thought I’d report on a game like this as both sides threw everything into it and the spectators who turned out got their monies worth.
Manager Michael Flynn made nine changes to the starting side from Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup tie at Grimsby Town as only George Nurse and Tristan Abrahams retained their place.
There was a place for a competitive County debut for 16-year old Joe Woodiwiss – who was immense all evening against senior pros – he slotted into the heart of the defence of a 4-4-2 formation.
Cheltenham Town manager Michael Duff made only the five changes from Saturday’s draw with Swindon Town in the Emirates FA Cup when keeping to the usual 3-5-2 formation and former Exile Ben Tozer as skipper.
If you ever needed an advert for the Leasing.Com Trophy, then this was it – an absolute cracker at the Jonny Rocks Stadium which included eight goals before half time with County somehow in a 5-3 lead.
Cheltenham actually started the better in Gloucestershire as Alex Addai was looking to impress on a rare start but Nick Townsend foiled him on two occasions inside four minutes from a near post shot then a header.
The first goal came in the eighth minute as County took the lead. It wasn’t exactly the best of evenings for Cheltenham understudy Rhys Lovett and he was at fault for Taylor Maloney’s opener, sliding with the ball in hand and having to drop it before leaving the penalty area, allowing Maloney to tap into an empty net.
It could have been two for the Exiles on the quarter-of-an-hour mark but Lovett survived by the skin of his teeth. Corey Whitely was simply outstanding all evening – arguably man of the match even if he didn’t find the target – and his shot rebounded off the post onto Lovett’s face but narrowly past the post.
Just two minutes later, Cheltenham found their equaliser after carving County apart through the middle. Eventually the ball made its way to Addai who sublimely sent a backheel through the centre halves for Max Sheaf to smash into the top corner.
It was County who re-took the lead on 26 minutes as they received a penalty for the fourth match of their last five when Lovett stupidly tripped Abrahams when he was actually drifting away from goal.
Matty Dolan – hero from the shootout against Mansfield Town in the play-off semi-final – calmly sent Lovett the wrong way into the bottom left corner for 2-1.
It was three by the half hour as Lovett again came under scrutiny when he allowed Abrahams to take the ball around him and slot home amid hesitancy to come out and meet Collins’ long ball.
It may have sounded like a healthy advantage, but the scores were level just seven minutes later as Cheltenham created some smart openings.
First Chris Hussey caused problems on the right and won his side a penalty after a trip from Maloney, Addai converting it on the rebound for his first goal for Cheltenham having started a game, before Sean Long powered home a header for the equaliser from Hussey’s delivery.
To end the half, County found the net on a further two occasions to make it eight for the half and quite frankly a reporter’s nightmare!
On 43 minutes, Abrahams got his second when converting Nurse’s cross then Maloney also found the net for the second time when sending a piledriver into the bottom corner from 20 yards.
Amazingly, the second half was just as good a spectacle if not the same volume of goals as Maloney and Abrahams completed their hat-tricks. Who gets the match ball remains to be seen.
Maloney was the first to complete his hat-trick on 53 minutes – he’d never scored a professional goal before the trip to Gloucestershire and now a first career treble. It was another quality finish from the Charlton Athletic loanee, this one from 30 yards into the top corner following a lay-off from Collins.
Abrahams then joined the hat-trick club with his own stunner from 22 yards, Poleon was in space inside the area but the 20-year old had no other thought but to shoot and he curled above Lovett for the seventh of the evening.
The game looked all done for the evening when it got to ten goals but no, one more for the paying customers on 84 minutes as Tozer deflected Chris Clements’ free kick on its way past Townsend.
Reuben Reid came on late for his Robins debut and he looked a livewire – he unfortunately couldn’t add to the tally of goals although he did worry Townsend on three occasions.
Game of the season for sure as County scored seven on the road for the first time since the Conference days during a 7-1 victory at Gateshead. Job done then – now to wait for tomorrow’s result between Exeter City and West Ham United U21s to see if County progress to the knockout stages.
Newport County AFC (4-4-2): Nick Townsend, Dom Jefferies, Kyle Howkins, Joe Woodiwiss (Scot Bennett 90+3’), George Nurse, Corey Whitely, Matty Dolan (C) (Callum Jones 82’), Taylor Maloney, Lewis Collins, Tristan Abrahams (Ryan Hillier 39’), Dominic Poleon
Subs not used: Haynes, Labadie, Amond, Matt
Cheltenham Town (3-5-2): Rhys Lovett, Will Boyle, Ben Tozer (C), Charlie Raglan, Sean Long, Chris Clements, Max Sheaf (Reuben Reid 58’), Rohan Ince, Chris Hussey (Jacob Greaves 58’), Alex Addai, George Lloyd
Subs not used: Flinders, Brennan, Doyle-Hayes, Smith, Evans-Harriott
Referee: Andy Woolmer
Attendance: 774 (63 AWAY)
Next up for County: Grimsby Town (HOME) – Emirates FA Cup First Round Replay – 20th November 2019