BOSS Graham Coughlan believes Newport County AFC exited their EFL Trophy ‘group of death’ with their heads held high.

The Exiles faced Bristol Rovers in a winner-takes-all encounter at Rodney Parade on Tuesday night but it was the Gas that progressed to the last 32.

County started the campaign with a 2-0 win at League One Cheltenham but then lost 1-0 to West Ham Under-21s, who secured top spot in Group H.

That left Coughlan’s men facing off with his former side for an away tie but it was the visitors that triumphed thanks to Anthony Evans’ 37th-minute strike.

South Wales Argus: UPBEAT: County manager Graham CoughlanUPBEAT: County manager Graham Coughlan (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“It was a group of death for us with two League One teams and West Ham but we equipped ourselves well and were very competitive,” said the manager.

“We were disappointed after the West Ham game and then again against Bristol Rovers, although they were the better team and shaded it with the chances that they created.

“They hit the woodwork on a couple of occasions and Nick Townsend pulled off a save, so the better team won on reflection.

“We asked the lads to give everything and they did, but to get out of this group we needed a break of the ball and a bit of luck and that eluded us.”

Rovers should have been further ahead at the break and Townsend pulled off a superb block to deny former Manchester City, Celtic and Swansea forward Scott Sinclair before a late Exiles charge.

They put the pressure on but, just like in last Saturday’s 0-0 draw with MK Dons, failed to force the opposition’s goalkeeper into heroics.

“I would like the end product and the quality in the final third to be better. We were sloppy with the ball, we gave it away cheaply and our press wasn’t as it should be,” said Coughlan.

“We still nicked high up the pitch, got in on the back of them and had one or two little chances, but we didn’t work the goalie enough.

“That’s a bit of a concern because that end product and quality in the final third was missing on Saturday and again, so we need to work on that.

“That’s the reason why we exited the group, but we do it with our heads held high. Once again they dug deep for us and ran themselves into the ground.”

County return to League Two action on Saturday when they travel to promotion-chasing Mansfield Town.

The Stags fixture is the start of a tricky spell that also pits them against leaders Stockport and seventh-placed Morecambe, with a long Tuesday journey to Lancashire.