Newport County AFC bowed out of the Emirates FA Cup at the Third Round stage following a spirited and battling performance in the 3-0 defeat at Championship outfit Millwall FC.
Matt Smith’s first half opener gave County an uphill task and as they threw men further forward towards the end of the game trying to rescue a replay, Connor Mahoney and Tom Bradshaw made sure of the result as the second tier side progressed.
Michael Flynn elected to make two changes to the side which played out a 1-1 draw against Cheltenham Town in the inaugural game of 2020 at Rodney Parade on Wednesday afternoon.
One of the changes was enforced as Danny McNamara was ineligible to play against his parent club, Ryan Inniss dropped to the bench as Mark O’Brien made a welcome return from concussion and top scorer Padraig Amond also came back in.
McNamara’s absence alongside Robbie Wilmott’s injury absence left County with a right back dilemma but Flynn solved that by pushing Scot Bennett there in a 4-2-3-1 formation and the versatile defender didn’t at any point look out of place against the Championship outfit.
Millwall manager Gary Rowett promised to respect the competition which the Lions have had some success in recent seasons - dumping Leicester City and Everton out in the last three seasons - but the beauty of having strong squad depth is he could make seven changes but still name a strong side.
18-year old midfielder Billy Mitchell - not of Eastenders fame - was the only player not really considered a first team regular but he actually looked one of the more impressive players on the field, playing some splitting passes and venturing forward.
County actually made the brightest start in the contest, they certainly weren’t afraid to take the game to a side 54 places above them in the English league pyramid, and Jamille Matt and Tristan Abrahams had early opportunities.
It was mightily frustrating then that after such a positive start, County fell behind so cheaply in seven minutes. George Nurse perfectly read what Connor Mahoney was trying to do with his corner kick but unfortunately he miscued the clearance giving Matt Smith the simplest of jobs to tap home into the net.
The encouraging thing was that County didn’t allow their heads to drop after giving away a goal to their Championsip opponents and they almost got straight back level with a header from captain Joss Labadie but Bartosz Bialkowski made a smart stop.
When they were allowed to, Millwall retained possession extremely well - there was a 40+ pass move in the middle of the half which was sublime and if they’d have scored it instead of Jon Dadi Bodvarsson drawing a save from Tom King then we may have been looking at the goal of the competition.
County weren’t afraid to keep the ball either for sustained periods but the man mountain central defensive partnership of Jake Cooper and captain Alex Pearce for Millwall thwarted many of the crosses from getting into the penalty area.
Connor Mahoney almost made it two just before the break from another well worked corner routine, this time he peeled from the cluster on the penalty spot to drill an attempt in which Amond had to clear off the goal line.
Into the second half and County had to push men further forward to try and wrestle back the tie in an attempt to reach the Fourth Round for the their successive season.
Unfortunately, it was ultimately too big a challenge but it could have been so different if the Exiles had equalised on 53 minutes. Labadie played a sublime pass over the top for Matt who saw a shot spectacularly saved by Bialkowski before Amond prodded the rebound home.
That was the wake up the home side required to kick on again and they put the tie to bed with further goals on 64 then again on 82 minutes.
Bradshaw’s introduction worked wonders for the home side as he was the targetman they craved to hold up the ball, he got the third with a sublime chip to complete the job after Mahoney converted a penalty.
A frustrating afternoon in terms of result for the Exiles but it wasn’t for a want of intent or endeavour as County deserved a goal for their performance. Positives to take, including some players back from injury, ahead of the second half of the campaign.
Millwall FC (4-4-2): Bartosz Bialkowski, Jason McCarthy (James Brown 83’), Alex Pearce (C), Jake Cooper, Murray Wallace, Jiri Skalak (Shane Ferguson 79’), Jayson Molumby, Billy Mitchell, Connor Mahoney, Matt Smith (Tom Bradshaw 59’), Jon Dadi Bodvarsson
Subs not used: Steele, Hutchinson, Wallace, O’Brien
Newport County AFC (4-2-3-1): Tom King, Scot Bennett, Mark O’Brien, Mickey Demetriou, Ryan Haynes (Corey Whitely 74’), Joss Labadie (C) (Matty Dolan 79’), Josh Sheehan, Tristan Abrahams (Lewis Collins 79’), Padraig Amond, George Nurse, Jamille Matt
Subs not used: Townsend, Poleon, Inniss, Jefferies
Referee: Tony Harrington
Attendance: 6,009 (877 AWAY)
Next up for County: MK Dons (January 7th) HOME - Leasing.Com Trophy Third Round