NEWPORT County AFC conceded a pair of late goals to Arsenal U21s to suffer a 4-3 defeat in the EFL Trophy, just as they looked set for the knockout stages.

The Exiles were leading 3-2 late on in the contest and were set to back up their victory over Plymouth Argyle, which would have led to qualification with a game to spare.

However, they will now head to Swindon in November with work to do if they are to make it to the last 32 in a competition that has its critics but can boost the coffers.

It was 1-1 after an extremely open first half with striker Jordan Greenidge scoring his first competitive goal in amber before some sleepy defending allowed the extremely tricky Omari Hutchison to fire the young Gunners level.

Arsenal hit the front with a delightful free-kick from Salah Oulad M’Hand but were chasing the game after strikes in quick succession by subs Timmy Abraham and Alex Fisher.

County were nearing the finish line when they conceded a poor goal with James Olayinka firing the Gunners back level.

Penalties loomed but then Charles Sagoe Jr slotted from a cutback to take the spoils from a compelling, if slightly chaotic, clash.

South Wales Argus: BATTLE: Kevin Ellison battles for the ballBATTLE: Kevin Ellison battles for the ball

Caretaker boss Wayne Hatswell has settled on his League Two starting line-up and predictably rang the changes ahead of Saturday’s trip to Exeter.

There is always an element of doubt when it comes to County’s formation when the teams are announced due to their flexibility, but nothing like this.

With Scot Bennett and Priestley Farquharson injured and the trio of James Clarke, Matty Dolan and Mickey Demetriou wrapped in cotton wool, there was just one specialist central defender in the matchday squad and he was 18-year-old Joe Woodiwiss.

Would he be joined in a three by full-backs Aaron Lewis and Louis Hall, would there be a makeshift centre-back?

It was the latter with midfielder Chris Missilou given the task in a flat four protected by a young midfield trio of Aneurin Livermore, Jake Cain and Lewis Collins.

Targetman Greenidge led the line with the experienced duo of Jermaine Hylton and Kevin Ellison, captain for the night, in support.

It was a frenetic start with both defences lacking protection; it could have been 3-2 after quarter of an hour.

County went close on a minute when Collins intercepted and fired just over, then Greenidge failed to chip stranded ‘keeper Ovie Ejeheri after his poor pass out and Collins fired straight at the stopper after a loose defensive pass.

Arsenal had their share of lively moments with Missilou frequently on the scramble and the young Gunners should have hit the front after 14 minutes.

Striker Kido Taylor-Hart did his job with a good connection after a cross from the right but Nick Townsend produced a sensational save, not only getting his hand up to the high shot but palming it behind.

The Exiles made the most of that escape to hit the front after 18 minutes when Livermore played the ball into Greenidge and he showed a nice touch and turn before finishing low into the right corner.

South Wales Argus: CELEBRATION: Alex Fisher put County in frontCELEBRATION: Alex Fisher put County in front

County then had a good spell in which they went close to doubling their lead with Ellison hitting the top of the bar with a shot from the edge of the area.

Yet they were pegged back on 32 minutes after switching off for a corner from the right, perhaps hindered by a lengthy for Arsenal treatment that led to a water break.

It was taken short and Hutchison had time to measure a left-footed shot into the far corner beyond the diving Townsend.

The chances kept coming before the break with Greenidge wasting an opportunity by opting to go with his left foot rather than head from Collins' cross before Ellison was denied by Ejeheri after being played in down the left by Hylton.

Yet the Gunners nearly struck in time added on but Townsend was alert to keep out a Hutchinson header from close range.

County made a pair of changes at the break, bringing on Abraham for Hylton and Alex Fisher for Greenidge.

Fisher immediately drew a superb stop from Ejeheri with a drive from the edge of the box as the shots kept flying in, then the Gunners hit the front after .

Lewis was penalised for a trip on the edge of the box and Salah Oulad M’Hand curled in a right-footed effort out of Townsend’s reach.

The keeper produced another sensational save to deny Arsenal a lovely third approaching the hour, saving from close range when Hutchison put his boot through it after a chipped through ball.

County were hanging on… yet were in front after 67 minutes thanks to a quickfire pair of goals from their subs.

First Abraham levelled on 61 minutes with the help of a big deflection and then Fisher slammed in powerfully after Arsenal failed to deal with a long throw.

Yet the visitors struck with five minutes to go when James Olayinka finished off when County were caught short at the back.

History repeated in injury time when Arsenal got to the line and Sagoe Jr finished neatly.

County are effectively playing knockout football when they head to Swindon.

County: Townsend, Lewis, Woodiwiss, Hall, Cain (Twamley 86), Missilou, Livermore, Ellison, Hylton (Abraham 45), Collins, Greenidge (Fisher 45).
Substitutes: Ovendale, Hillier.
Yellow: Woodiwiss, Missilou
Goals: Greenidge, Abraham, Fisher.

Arsenal: Ejeheri, Alebiosu, Ideho, Lopez, Ogungbo, Olayinka, M'Hand, Swanson, Taylor-Hart, Hutchinson, Monlouis.
Substitutes: Akinola, Butler-Oyedeji, Walters, Edwards, Foran, Mitchell, Sagoe Jr.

Goals: Hutchinson, M’Hand, Olayinka, Sagoe Jr

Referee: Christopher Sarginson