NEWPORT County AFC boss Graham Coughlan hopes the comebacks by James Clarke and Seb Palmer-Houlden signals the return of some selection headaches – and bench power.

The Exiles suffered an EFL Trophy exit on Tuesday night when beaten 1-0 by League One Bristol Rovers but they got a boost ahead of Saturday’s League Two trip to promotion-chasing Mansfield Town.

Defender Clarke and striker Palmer-Houlden both came off the bench in the 67th minute, the former enjoying his first action since a groin injury against Bradford in September and the latter back from a pulled hamstring in August’s Carabao Cup clash with Premier League Brentford.

Neither will be starting contenders for the trip to Field Mill but Coughlan will have some welcome options on the bench.

The manager only had midfielder James Waite and teenage Bristol City loanee Olly Thomas as genuine substitute options in last Saturday's 0-0 draw with MK Dons, with academy youngsters Nelson Sanca and Alfie Young bolstering the matchday squad in case of emergency.

Clarke and Palmer-Houlden are back in the mix but Coughlan knows that a cautious approach is key to ensure they are proper contenders come December.

"We got minutes into James and Seb, which is positive. We got 25 minutes into them and that’s another box ticked," said the manager after the Bristol Rovers game.

"We will build up the minutes as we go throughout the next week or so, increasing it to 35 or 40, then look to get 60 at some stage.

"We don’t have the luxury of having 22 players so we can’t really play 11 versus 11 in training to give them practice minutes, nor are we in a reserve league.

"Getting them a ‘bounce’ fixture is not possible so we have to give them active minutes when they are recovering."

South Wales Argus: BOOST: Graham Coughlan has James Clarke and Seb Palmer-Houlden back in his Newport County squadBOOST: Graham Coughlan has James Clarke and Seb Palmer-Houlden back in his Newport County squad (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

County are without defender Matt Baker this weekend because of Wales Under-21s duty.

Midfielder Aaron Wildig is struggling with a back issue and forward Kiban Rai has a niggle.

The long-term injury list still features centre-backs Kyle Jameson (hip), Declan Drysdale (hamstring) and Josh Seberry (broken fibula), left-back Adam Lewis (quad), midfielder Harry Charsley and striker Offrande Zanzala (knee).

"Hopefully over the coming weeks we will have more options because I like having decisions," said Coughlan.

"I like having choices and we have not have that for the last four or five weeks. Not only will we strengthen the team but our bench will get stronger and that will give us options going forward."

County have a tough run of games with third-placed Mansfield followed by leaders Stockport at Rodney Parade and a long midweek trip to seventh-placed Morecambe.