Newport set up Manchester United tie after ending Eastleigh’s FA Cup run

Photograph: Ashley Western/Colorsport/Shutterstock

Graham Coughlan, the Newport County manager, is an obsessive Manchester United fan from a family full of them. “Jeez, I’ve followed them all over,” he said. Now they are coming to him, after his side beat Eastleigh 3-1 in their third-round replay to bring Erik ten Hag and his team to Rodney Parade in round four.

“I can’t get my head around it. It doesn’t happen to people like me,” Coughlan said. “I’m really emotional at this moment. I don’t know when it’ll sink in but I’m sure my family’s doing Irish jigs around the house at the minute. It’s going to be a hell of an occasion and I can’t wait.”

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Coughlan remembers “shedding tears in 1979 when Arsenal beat us in the Cup final”, but there will be no such sadness if his team dump United out of this year’s competition. “You have to enjoy times like this,” he said. “Football is tough, it’s unforgiving and it can kick you where it hurts, so when the good times come around – they say never get too high, never get too low but I think that’s a load of nonsense. I’m an emotional man.

“I’m a passionate man and I love my football. I tell you what, I can’t be any prouder of the group. I’ve left them in the dressing room, they’re singing and dancing, they’re over the moon and they deserve it.”

In the buildup to this replay Coughlan had attempted to play down “this pantomime of Manchester United” as questions about the potential payday swirled. “I had to protect my players,” he said, with victory secured. “I had to try and keep the pressure off them. I had to play the rewards of this game down, because they were going in with immense pressure and they didn’t need me adding to it. I didn’t want our players to go out there and freeze.”

On an icy evening it was a possibility in more ways than one, but Newport never looked like ending this game of fine margins and even finer goals with anything other than a victory. They took the lead in less than three minutes, Will Evans playing in Aaron Wildig who danced past Joe McDonnell before passing into an empty net.

A minute later Seb Palmer-Houlden ran on to a long ball down the left flank and sent a low shot bouncing across goal and wide. It was the brightest of starts from the visitors, and if they could not sustain that level of domination they continued to create chances, James Clarke twice sending headers from corners straight at McDonnell, and Wildig volleying wide of the near post from an Adam Lewis cross.

Eastleigh settled into the game and played impressively in the first half without creating any clear chances. And having scored with their only shot on target in south Wales 10 days earlier, Eastleigh scored with their first of this one – and it was a goal of which any of United’s superstars would have been proud.

A long ball down the right bounced to Paul McCallum on the right side of the area, and he sent a superb volley arcing across goal and into the far corner with Nick Townsend helpless. It was his 23rd goal of the season, in his 23rd game, and there cannot have been many finer.

So a goal scored three minutes into the first half had been followed by one three minutes into the second, but this time there were more to come. Evans wanted a penalty after he hit a cross into Corey Panter from close range in the 59th minute, and though his appeal was denied Newport would not be: from the resulting corner Shane McLoughlin sent the ball into the area and this time Clarke’s header was irresistible, powered into the net despite the best efforts of the defender on the line.

And in the 79th minute Evans sealed it, collecting the ball on the edge of the area after three players had combined to earn space down the left, beating his marker with his first touch and arrowing a left-footed shot into the far corner.

It took an excellent save from McDonnell three minutes later to stop Bryn Morris giving the scoreline what would have been an unfairly lopsided look. “This is disappointing. This is a right punch in the nose for them, and they’ve all got bloody noses in there,” Richard Hill, the Eastleigh manager, said of his side. “They’ve come here and done a job on us. On the night they were better than we were.”


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