FINALLY, after 18 games of the League Two campaign, Newport County AFC manager Graham Coughlan is bracing himself for a decision up front, and the timing couldn’t be better.

The Exiles’ season has been hit hard by injury with a lack of defensive numbers affecting Coughlan’s ability to play his favoured 3-5-2.

The number of players in the treatment room has also forced the boss into sticking with the same strike partnership at the other end, with the lack of what he deems a serious option off the bench.

County are yet to have a league fixture when three of their frontline forwards are able to play the full 90 minutes.

Omar Bogle, last season’s top scorer with 19 in all competitions, missed the start of the season after suffering summer quad and hamstring injuries.

With Offrande Zanzala out until the New Year because of ruptured knee ligaments, that led to Will Evans and 19-year-old Bristol City prospect Seb Palmer-Houlden joining forces to great effect.

South Wales Argus: IMPRESSIVE: Will Evans started the season with a bang for CountyIMPRESSIVE: Will Evans started the season with a bang for County (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The duo played a big part in County’s encouraging August but no sooner had Bogle returned with a cameo off the bench against Sutton than Palmer-Houlden suffered a hamstring injury when exploding into a sprint straight after coming on against Premier League Brentford in the Carabao Cup.

The result of that blow was the Exiles bringing in another Bristol City prospect on loan with Olly Thomas’ planned spell with Yeovil in National League South cut short for an EFL chance.

The 18-year-old is raw and it looks he would have been better served staying in Somerset.

According to, Thomas has played just 132 minutes of League Two football (although this doesn't include injury time).

Similarly, homegrown teen Kiban Rai has only featured in 151 minutes with Coughlan only trusting the forward to add energy off the bench.

County have had to rely on Bogle and Evans up front but, while that has proved to be a fruitful partnership (the former having six goals and an assist, the latter 10 and an assist), the return of Palmer-Houlden could be massive ahead of a key chunk of the season.

South Wales Argus: RETURN: Seb Palmer-Houlden on the run for County at MansfieldRETURN: Seb Palmer-Houlden on the run for County at Mansfield (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The striker might be a teenager like Thomas but he has the physicality to cope with the Football League and the work rate to terrorise defences.

He came on for a first League Two outing since August at Mansfield last weekend and made an impression with an energetic 40 minutes against the promotion-chasing Stags.

Coughlan put all three strikers on together with versatile Evans, who has also thrived down the right at times this season, dropping a little deeper.

Provided they stay fit, that’s an option for the weeks to come but the boss will also be able to rotate and freshen up when going with a partnership.

With Stockport on Saturday followed by Morecambe on Tuesday then Barnet in the FA Cup, a cautious approach is still needed with Palmer-Houlden given that he probably isn’t a 90-minute candidate.

However, Coughlan will be able to look over his shoulder to the dugout in December and bring on a player who can add energy up front, whether it’s Bogle, Evans or Palmer-Houlden.

That worked well in the first half of 2023 when loanees Charlie McNeill and Calum Kavanagh brought the best out of Bogle.

The Exiles face a key spell of their season to ensure that any January transfer dealings are made to retain/extend a healthy gap over the drop zone rather than be recruiting while in peril.

There are 24 points up for grabs up to and including the New Year’s Day trip to strugglers Sutton and finding a killer touch in the final third is vital.

County have failed to score in five of their last seven games. Bogle scored two penalties in Gillingham, Shane McLoughlin blasted in a pair of crackers against Oldham in the FA Cup.

The Exiles have failed to work opposition goalkeepers enough but the return of Palmer-Houlden to join forces with and compete with Bogle and Evans can help change that.

County will have a pair of strong starters and a player to provide oomph off the bench, and that is a blessing after a testing first 18 fixtures of the League Two campaign.