NIGEL Clough won’t get the clarity that he desires when Newport County AFC hand in their team sheet at Mansfield Town at 1.45pm on Saturday.

The promotion-chasing Stags, unbeaten in 16 League Two fixtures, will have to prepare for different scenarios ahead of the clash at Field Mill (kick-off 3pm).

The Exiles will head there in pretty good form, helped by their recent return to the 3-5-2 that manager Graham Coughlan favoured in 2022/23.

However, the loss of Matt Baker to Wales Under-21s duty leaves them with a decision to make given that centre-backs Kyle Jameson, Declan Drysdale and Josh Seberry are injured and James Clarke is not match sharp after only making his return off the bench in midweek.

A return to a flat four looked likely when County’s line-up to face Bristol Rovers in the EFL Trophy was announced.

Yet Shane McLoughlin added another string to his bow.

South Wales Argus: DEPENDABLE: County defender/midfielder Shane McLoughlinDEPENDABLE: County defender/midfielder Shane McLoughlin (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Irishman was signed last summer primarily as a right-back but he has also featured at left-back and in a variety of midfield roles.

McLoughlin took Baker’s spot on the right of a defensive three, slotting in next to Scot Bennett and Ryan Delaney.

It wasn’t a complete success – and Rovers’ John Marquis really should have punished County after latching onto long balls twice – but it gives Coughlan food for thought.

Could County stick with the 3-5-2 (which was 5-4-1 at times against the Gas) for the trip to Field Mill? Should McLoughlin help out as a midfielder in 4-5-1?

Mansfield will be a serious test of County whatever they do and there is a strong argument for going with the same side that started the second half when Omar Bogle came off the bench.

That the manager has the option to stay with three at the back is testament to the professionalism of the Exiles’ original Mr Versatile (Bennett) and Mr Versatile II (McLoughlin).

Bennett, primarily a midfielder under Coughlan, has impressed since moving back to the heart of defence in the win at Gillingham.

McLoughlin has quietly gone about his business whatever role his compatriot has asked him to carry out.

“Shane is on my case now about playing in goal between now and the end of the season!” said Coughlan after the Rovers game.

“In the summer we had to recruit players who could give us options and flexibility, with the ability to adapt to different scenarios.

“I knew that we wouldn’t get through the season injury-free, although I didn’t think it would be this bad!

“We had to bring players in who could play in several positions and Scot Bennett and Shane have been unbelievable. They are the type of characters that solid dressing rooms are built on.”

Other talking points from Tuesday night…

South Wales Argus: Newport County striker Olly Thomas in action against Bristol RoversNewport County striker Olly Thomas in action against Bristol Rovers (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Olly Thomas got a rare opportunity up front but the Bristol City prospect had a tough time against the city’s other EFL side, who headed to Newport with a strong team due to the lack of a game this weekend.

He struggled and was isolated up front, with Omar Bogle brought on at the break to use his experience in that role.

Thomas has been a fringe figure since arriving in August after clubmate Seb Palmer-Houlden’s injury.

The 18-year-old was meant to be getting experience with Yeovil in National League South and, on reflection, that probably would have served him better.

County will look to explore the loan market in January and that could well mean that the teenager is sent back to his parent club.

However, the Exiles are not blessed with numbers and, even though Palmer-Houlden is back, Thomas can provide Coughlan with an option on the bench.

Fingers crossed he can enjoy a few cameos of note if it does turn out to be his final month and a half in south Wales.

South Wales Argus: Newport County forward Will Evans bursts forward against Bristol RoversNewport County forward Will Evans bursts forward against Bristol Rovers (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


County will be huge underdogs at Mansfield on Saturday and they need to do more with the openings that come their way.

MK Dons’ Craig MacGillivray had just one shot on target to deal from a total of 16 efforts and the story was similar against Rovers with late pressure not leading to the opposition goalkeeper having saves to make.

In fact, Jed Ward’s main hair-raising moment came when he flapped at a corner and almost punched into his own goal.

This isn’t an issue that is solely down to the forwards – County’s delivery from wide areas and set pieces needs to improve.