It had potential to be a tricky tie; this a Newport County side that had beaten Brighton and whispering about doing the feat of Bradford and going through to the final. It would all depend on how seriously we would take the game and the competition in a sense that would be shown on the team sheet.
Brutal reality hit hard when the squad was announced. We lack depth, we have a number of areas on the pitch where options are extremely limited to 1 or 2 good first teamers with no reserve players available. The hope was those players would come through unscathed. Daniels kept his place in goal; with a back four of Jones, Lugano, who came in for his debut, next to young Craig Dawson and Popov on the left of the defence. A three man midfield looked strong with the enforcer Yacob defending and allowing Brunt and Dorrans to have a more attacking berth. Then the front three saw Sinclair and young Sadio Berahino either side of Vydra. Youngster Cameron Gayle was given a bench spot with numerous first teamers.
It kicked off with Newport naturally pressing high and trying to nick the ball wherever they could, and in fairness to them they posed a few questions to our unfamiliar back line. Crosses in saw Dawson and Lugano head balls to the edge of the box but they were connected poorly by Newport midfielders and Daniels had no problems watching the ball go closer to the corner flag than his goal.
The visitors persisted though. We were never overly worried but if we give these chances to a team of better players they would probably take one. A cross came in again, not dealt with at the back post but a Newport man headed wide with the three man midfield was getting slightly overrun.
But It didn’t take long though for the Baggies to take more control and get the front three in the game. Sinclair had shown bursts of pace down his wing and his quick feet were a breath of fresh air to see – given that we haven’t seen something like it for so long.
Sinclair then successfully assisted young Saido with a lovely timed pass and run. Saido slid the ball in, watched by Vyrda all the way just to make sure. An early goal stopped any nerves that could’ve occurred throughout the night.
A more than deserved goal for a player that was called up to the England Under 21 side just hours before. Not a bad day for the youngster.
Albion became dominant, controlling and although chances weren’t free flowing, you could see that every Albion player out there had played at a higher level than Newport in recent years. Vydra was making some good off the ball runs, taking defenders away from the ball, it was all very good but ultimately strikers will be judged on goals, even though nowadays their job is far, far more than netting.
Lugano was making a debut and wasn’t a rock of confidence when he was convincingly beaten by pace down the wing and then fronted up 1v1 and beaten again. He looked as though he was running through treacle with shackles on, although he looked the same in the summer in the Confeds Cup, so Clarke would’ve known that pre game setting the side up.
A worrying moment arrived when WBA were aggrieved that Sinclair wasn’t given a foul. The ball was in the air and a Newport man went with his head and Yacob, dangerously, with a boot and studs at that. No part of Yacob was attempting to kick but it was reckless and dangerous, he escaped with a yellow card, thankfully.
We made it 2-0 when Berahino showed he has ability in a 1v1 situation. He stepped inside of his defender into a hole of space and producing a perfectly placed strike into the top corner with his left foot. 2-0 and this kid, who in fairness should be producing against Newport, was on fire.
The beauty of having a player of 20 years of age is the lack of fear they have, the confidence they walk with and that meant he had no worries dispatching the shot away.
The Lugano/Dawson partnership was one of worry with an offside trap getting a let off twice. It was a matter of time before the quick strikers got in and they did, an offside line on the edge of the box was breached – no real surprise we shouldn’t play offside there! – and Daniels made a quick, decisive save to keep the clean sheet intact.
Vydra had a shot deflected just over before our Academy was given a night to remember as Dawson was fouled in the area from a corner. It was a clear foul and daft one at that. Berahino was straight on the ball to send the ‘keeper the wrong way and prove that although it has been far too long the WBA Academy can produce first team players!
An injured Vydra was then subbed for Markus the Great, could he have his moment with over half the game left?
Half time came and a content Albion went in ahead. It was a bright showing with players like Sinclair and Berahino clearly wanting to display talents and get on the score sheet but not denying others opportunities.
A bubbling Albion started the second half well, Dorrans ripping a shot just wide when he should of probably carried it forward or fed Markus the Great, who was not happy about the Scot’s decision.
Newport had a tame shot from distance easily saved by Luke Daniels, meanwhile the midfield enforcer was off and replaced by James Morrison.
It seemed like a comfortable Albion side in second gear making sure engines didn’t go for Sunday, understandable with the players on the pitch still being first teamers in some cases.
It was an Albion side begging Markus to score, passing to him at every opportunity, like a playground game where the rubbish kid can’t score no matter how many chances you give them. Morrison and Sinclair both passed balls into space for the Swede who didn’t anticipate the ball. When he did get it he often turned away not believing he could beat a man, probably down to the fact he has no speed so didn’t want to get in a 1v1.
He did however leave with a huge chance, made the run well, got 1v1 and the touch he took was the wrong way, he went away instead of across the goal and then had a shot go well, well wide not worrying the Paddy Kenny lookalike in goal.
Berahino nearly got a fourth, when he played on the shoulder of the last man, made a run through the defence and saw the ‘keeper save his shot, which wouldn’t have counted given the youngster was offside.
Newport were keen on getting a goal , getting a couple of corners at the end , which were defended well by the Baggies.
Gayle came on for Jones late on to mark a very good night for those at the Academy who must now feel worthwhile given the opportunities given of late by a man, in Clarke, who has been in their shoes and worked through.
Gayle had some good touches and did well in his little cameo as the full time whistle blew and the job was done, a crowd of just under 8,000 (1,300 Newport) saw the Albion progress comfortably into the hat.
It’s been a long time coming this night for a few people. An academy prospect gets a hat trick in the first team another academy lad keeps a clean sheet and another comes off the bench.
In reality the tie should’ve been as easy as it was. All those out there have played at a higher level than Newport and that’s why I am not getting carried away for calls of Saido to start on Sunday. Swansea are a footballing world away from Newport County but it could happen. Should he do well could we be relying on another youngster this season to do the business, only this one is ours!
Lugano wasn’t great but not a troublesome night for the backline who did their jobs and stayed professional. I’m unsure on Popov, who did well but then would have a moment where you would wonder what actually happened to him.
What last night showed more than anything though was a lack of depth in a small squad. First teamers were in by force rather than choice and that is something that I am sure Clarke would like to address before the window closes because it is blatant to see we are 1 or 2 injuries in certain positions especially away from a huge problem.
I can just see Peace now though saying to Clarke you now have a striker and a winger in Berahino so I won’t grant you any funds for anyone!
Rosenberg is also nearing the end of the line I fear. In a game like that you have to get chances and he didn’t even get into the areas to get them. At one point we were breaking into the box and he was pulling his socks up on the half way line! A goal is desperately needed and he doesn’t look like a player who wants one – unlike the Berahino and Sinclair who clearly did. Would our Rosie have had a shot from where Sadio scored his second? I don’t think he would. The lack of belief in himself is screaming out and can only fuel fans’ disappointment in his performance.
I’ll leave it on a positive note and say well done to all those within the development team and Academy hope this be the start of something great with kids coming through. Enjoy the match ball Saido, you deserve it for hard work and confidence to take the shots on. Now go and get that first England cap!
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