It was penalty heartbreak for Newport County AFC as they took Premier League Brighton & Hove Albion all the way to spot-kicks before narrowly losing the shoot-out 4-3.
Adam Webster struck the decisive kick after Jason Steele had denied Scot Bennett in sudden death to edge the Seagulls into the next round.
It was Webster who ensured the game reached extra time after his own goal in the sixth minute of injury time cancelled out Solly March’s stunning effort only a few minutes earlier.
It was another valiant display from the Exiles who gave everything and, despite defeat, only strengthened their reputation in the FA Cup.
For the first action of 2021 Michael Flynn made five changes from their Boxing Day draw with Crawley Town. With Brandon Cooper and Scott Twine recalled from their loan spells, David Longe-King came into the defence while Robbie Willmott, Jamie Devitt and Padraig Amond led the attack. Tom King also replaced Nick Townsend in the starting XI.
Amond had an early sight of goal when a weak back pass from Lewis Dunk played the Irishman in on goal but the striker curled just past the post from an acute angle.
It was a rare chance in the opening exchanges for the Exiles but they more than held their own against their higher-level opposition who didn’t test King until the 16th minute. Yves Bissouma drove through the midfield and when his through ball rebounded back into his path he struck a fierce effort down the throat of King.
The shot-stopper showed his reflexes with a great reaction save to deny Dunk from a corner before smothering an Alexis Mac Allister shot from the edge of the area.
The King save showreel continued with a sublime stop to tip over Andi Zeqiri’s acrobatic kick from just a few yards out.
The Exiles were forced into a first-half substitution after Willmott picked up a knock and was replaced by Joss Labadie.
Amond’s insistence on running after every ball almost paid dividends when he forced goalkeeper Steele into a mistake but Dunk was there to rescue his goalkeeper with a brilliant goal-line clearance.
Ben White, who enjoyed a successful loan spell with County back in 2017/18, almost made a telling impact on his return to Rodney Parade when he picked out Zeqiri but the Swiss headed over. The defender was involved again as the ball broke to Davy Propper in space on the left but the substitute fired wide.
There was a welcome sight on 63 minutes with the return of Ryan Taylor, who has been out since early October, while academy graduate Lewis Collins also entered the action.
As the clock ticked down the game became more open and a teasing cross from Collins caused chaos in the box before falling nicely for Josh Sheehan, but the Welsh international’s effort was deflected over.
Ryan Haynes was next to try his luck but his curled shot flew over the Brighton crossbar following a Sheehan corner.
Brighton looked to have snatched victory late on when March thundered in an effort from the edge of the box but the Exiles love the FA Cup and forced the game into extra in the dying seconds game when Liam Shephard’s searching cross was bundled into his own net by Webster.
The battle between Dunk and King continued into extra time but King came out on top again with another breath-taking save.
County could have won it in the final seconds when Labadie’s cut back fell invitingly for Ellison but Dunk blocked brilliantly to ensure the game went all the way to penalties.
Both sides stuck away two of their initial five kicks before Jamie Proctor edged County ahead. Propper then sent King the wrong way before Steele, at full stretch, denied Bennett.
That then allowed Webster to seal Brighton’s progression and he made no mistake from 12 yards.
Newport County AFC: Tom King, Ryan Haynes, Mickey Demetriou, Matty Dolan (Kevin Ellison 90+3'), David Longe-King, Liam Shephard, Scot Bennett, Josh Sheehan (C), Robbie Willmott (Joss Labadie 39), Jamie Devitt (Lewis Collins 63, Jamie Proctor 90+3), Padraig Amond (Ryan Taylor 63').
Subs not used: Nick Townsend, Ashley Baker, Kyle Howkins, Jack Evans.