NEWPORT County AFC suffered a blow on Tuesday when Brandon Cooper was recalled from his season-long loan by Swansea City.

The 20-year-old was a leading figure in the Exiles’ stunning first half of the campaign, helping the club to mount a challenge for promotion from League Two.

Cooper signed in September after watching on from the Bisley Stand when County knocked the Swans out of the Carabao Cup on the opening weekend of the season.

He started life in amber in the EFL Trophy fixture against Cheltenham before having to settle for a place on the bench against Scunthorpe United in the league opener.

Cooper was called into action when Matty Dolan came off at half-time and was a starter until the end of the year, thriving in the physical side of the game to go along with being comfortable on the ball.

South Wales Argus: HIT: Brandon Cooper was hugely influential in the Newport defenceHIT: Brandon Cooper was hugely influential in the Newport defence

He finished with 25 appearances with one goal, when his thumping header earned three points late on against Harrogate. County won 15, drew six and lost four with Cooper in the side.

The Wales Under-21 international gave manager Michael Flynn the option of changing his formation; he formed a strong partnership on the right of a three with Dolan and Mickey Demetriou while he joined forces with Demetriou in a flat four.

The loss of Cooper is a blow to the Exiles’ promotion push but Flynn has the chance to address the issue in January, while he also has a number of options in his squad ahead of Sunday’s FA Cup tie against Brighton and Hove Albion.

Here are his current contenders to join Dolan and Demetriou in defence... 

South Wales Argus:

DAVID LONGE-KING

This could be the chance that the 25-year-old has been waiting for.

Longe-King made an impression in the summer to earn a one-season deal after joining on trial but he suffered a serious groin injury in training.

The defender made his Football League debut at the death against Morecambe to help close the game out then was used as a makeshift forward late on at Salford, when County salvaged a draw in injury time.

Perhaps Longe-King could make his first start against Brighton on Sunday, quite the leap from St Albans City.

“I'm aggressive, I wear my heart on my sleeve, I'm physical, quick and just love defending! I'd rather block an opportunity for a goal than score," he said last month when asked to describe his style.

KYLE HOWKINS

When County started with a back three against the Swans in September it was Howkins that was on the right of the three.

That continued at Scunthorpe, when Howkins shifted across after Cooper came on for Dolan at half-time.

The 6ft 5ins defender continued in the three against Cambridge and Barrow only for his season to then be hit by a hamstring injury.

Howkins, who made 23 appearances in the Covid-curtailed 2019/20, is back in training and his return is timely. It gives Flynn the chance to keep tinkering between 3-5-2 and 4-5-1.

South Wales Argus: Ashley Baker has been a fringe figure so far this seasonAshley Baker has been a fringe figure so far this season

ASHLEY BAKER

The arrival of Liam Shephard has made it a frustrating campaign for the 24-year-old, who has been limited to five appearances.

Shephard and Ryan Haynes have been firm fixtures down the flanks, whether as wing-backs or full-backs.

Could Baker be an option on the right of a defensive three? Longe-King and Howkins would seem to be ahead in the pecking order but this might be a route to the XI.

SCOT BENNETT

The utility man has operated primarily in his favoured midfield role this season but can also move back to defence.

A start at Cambridge while Cooper was on Wales Under-21s duty didn’t go to plan with Flynn admitting the Cornishman is not as comfortable on the right of a three. Nonetheless, the dependable Bennett is an option.

South Wales Argus: PROSPECT: Joe WoodiwissPROSPECT: Joe Woodiwiss

JOE WOODIWISS

The teenager was an unused substitute against Swansea on opening day and has played in three EFL Trophy games, adding to a pair of outings in the competition in 2019/20.

Flynn isn’t afraid of giving youth a chance and the prospect could be involved again in matchday squads.