NEWPORT County AFC held off a spirited challenge from hosts Evesham United to win their opening pre-season friendly 4-2.
Goals from trialist Mark Byrne, strikers Rene Howe and Chris Zebroski and new signing Yan Klukowski made up for some sloppy defending early on as the Exiles kicked off the new campaign with a comfortable victory.
Forget Brazil v Germany in the Estadio Mineirao, Belo Horizonte, this was the night that proper football returned and the real die-hard members of the amber army got their County fix again in rural Worcestershire.
It also came with its own piece of silverware as the Exiles lifted the Carl Lewis Memorial Trophy at the compact Spiers & Hartwell Jubilee Stadium.
The match, first played two years ago when Justin Edinburgh’s men won 3-0, was organised in memory of County fan Lewis, who died five years ago aged 48.
Known as ‘Mr Newport’, he was the brother-in-law of Evesham committee member Morris Allan and it is hoped that the match will remain a semi-regular pre-season fixture.
Darren Jones returned to a County starting XI for the first time since 2005 in the heart of defence alongside Andrew Hughes.
Trialists Joe Carter and Byrne also started at left-back and central midfield respectively.
Two more – Sheldon Sellears and Jack Simmons – made the bench but there was no sign of winger Chris Jones.
Ex-Barnet man Byrne was entrusted with the set-pieces and his delivery caused the Southern League defence plenty of problems early on.
Former Charlton Athletic defender Carter looked neat and tidy and, like Byrne, looks set to feature again at Cirencester on Saturday.
Evesham took a shock lead from their first corner after just six minutes when Lance Smith found far too much space in the box and headed powerfully past Lenny Pidgeley.
Shaun Jeffers, sporting an impressive new angular haircut, tested the home goalkeeper Kevin Sawyer with a rasping drive from distance soon afterwards.
And Sawyer again denied Jeffers after some good work from Christian Jolley but it could easily have been 2-0 at the other end as Smith blasted over from close range.
Byrne levelled on 32 minutes when he was in the right place to pounce on a cross from the left that Sawyer really should have cut out.
And Rene Howe, playing up front with Jolley and Jeffers in a 4-3-3 formation, gave the visitors the lead five minutes before the break with a thumping drive just inside the post.
But Smith made sure it was all square at the break as he curled a clever free-kick round the wall and inside Pidgeley’s near post on 43 minutes.
Lee Minshull came on after Max Porter felt a tight hamstring after 25 minutes and there were nine more changes for the second half.
New signing Yan Klukowski made a positive first impression in central midfield, attacking with intent and bagging a fine goal with a powerful finish just after the hour to the put County 3-2 up.
Trialists Simmons and Sellears showed glimpses of what they can do at left wing and right-back respectively.
Aaron O’Connor looked fit and sharp up front in the second half but it was last season’s top scorer Chris Zebroski who wrapped up the win with a tap-in for the fourth ten minutes from time.
And County fans will be relishing the prospect of those two forming a lethal partnership up front over the coming months.
County first half XI: Pidgeley, Jackson, Jones, Hughes, Carter, Porter, Byrne, Crow, Howe, Jeffers, Jolley
Second half XI: Pidgeley, Sandell, Sellears, Feely, Minshull, Chapman, Klukowski, Simmons, O’Connor, Zebroski, Willmott