Mike Flynn was full of praise for his side’s battling temperament as Joss Labadie's 93rd minute strike secured a 2-1 away victory at Cambridge United.
Despite spending long-periods of the first-half without the ball, the Exiles did take a lead into half-time thanks to Shawn McCoulsky’s 10th goal of the campaign.
It came on 42 minutes and was the product of some intricate passing from County in the opposing half.
After a few short passes, the ball was lifted in towards Frank Nouble in the box, who calmly chested the ball down and teed up Labadie to try his luck from 25 yards.
David Forde made a smart save to keep it out, but could only parry the ball into McCoulsky’s path, who reacted ahead of his marker to tap home.
In the second-half, Cambridge continued to pressure the County defence and it took a combination of some stunning Joe Day saves and a Scot Bennett goal line clearance to prevent an equaliser.
The best of those stops came on 62 minutes when U’s midfielder Paul Lewis was denied. He was found unmarked in the area from Jake Carroll’s delivery and it looked for all the world like his header would sneak into the far corner, only for Day to produce a terrific one-handed save to keep it out.
But Day was finally beaten with 14 minutes to go as Jevani Brown netted the equaliser.
It took an unstoppable strike to beat the County goalkeeper, as Brown picked the ball up in the County half before composing himself to fire a textbook strike into the top corner from 25 yards.
The home side continued to push for a match-winner as the game approached it’s dying seconds, only for Labadie to pop up and score the winner for the Exiles.
The County captain reacted quickest to a save from Matty Dolan’s free-kick, with the ball seemingly bouncing off his knee and into the net.
And Flynn was ecstatic to see his side fight until the end and snatch a dramatic late winner.
“I’m delighted,” he affirmed.
“I didn’t think we were at our best today and fair play to Cambridge they made it very difficult for us.
“They played some really good football and we weren’t at our best. But what a nice feeling when you win it at the end having not been at your best.”
McCoulsky’s goal was his second in as many games as he becomes the first player to reach double figures for the Exiles this season.
And Flynn was pleased to see his striker reap the rewards of his predatory instinct within the opposition penalty area.
“Not a bad loan signing is he?” he stated
“He’s got lots to learn but he’s got 10 goals at his first crack at League 2. We’re not even in January yet so I’m really pleased.”
For the match-winner, it didn’t look like Labadie particularly knew much about his decisive intervention.
It was his sixth of the campaign and a just reward for a true captain’s performance, as he scored for the third time against Cambridge this season.
And whilst Flynn praised his captain post-match, he remained adamant that he didn’t care whether Labadie knew anything about the goal or not.
“I didn’t know much about it, so I know he didn’t,” he admitted.
“I don’t know what it hit but I really don’t care either. It could have hit him in the nose and broke his nose for all I care. Actually, I would have laughed at that.
“He was in the right-place at the right-time, great delivery in and we got the win. He was on the move like he was all game. He didn’t stop running all game.
“He gave away a few fouls today but that is how dynamic he is and how much he gives to the cause. That’s probably why he picks up a few injuries as-well because he’s always pushing his body to the limit.
“He’s a fantastic player and I think you saw today why he is my captain.”
Flynn also commended the delivery of the free-kick that led to the late goal.
Matty Dolan’s free-kick caused havoc in the area as attackers rushed towards the goal in search of a decisive touch to get the ball past a helpless David Forde.
And Flynn was pleased to see Dolan continue his good set-piece delivery after scoring two of them last weekend.
He added: “I shouted on to them that it was the last kick of the game and for them to make sure it was whipped in.
“Matty must have saved that one because the few corners before that weren’t very good. He must have saved that because it was an unbelievable delivery and we got a touch of luck.
“There’s not many times where we can say we’ve been lucky this season because we’ve had to work hard for our results.
“It’s nice that we got that break.”
Another pleasing statistic for Flynn was that the Exiles were on the positive side of a late goal.
It was the second time this season that the Exiles had scored past the added extras, with the other coming in the 3-3 draw at Stevenage on the opening day of the campaign.
And Flynn was pleased for the luck to be on his side for once after a few late goals were conceded by County in November.
“It happens in football,” he said.
“We conceded two goals late against Barnet and lost three points. We score one today and gain three points.
“It works in roundabouts and tends to even out over the course of the season, so it just happened that all of ours came in a row.
“I hope that is the last of it, but I’ll be honest and say I was half ready to take a point once they scored because they were on top.
“If I said anything different it would just be a lie and I’m not a liar. So I probably would have taken a point but I am absolutely delighted that I’ve got all three.”
Flynn also felt the late goal was testament to the squad’s desire and belief throughout the game.
He continued: “I’m surprised I’m not being asked if I’m proud of how fit my players are.
“When we concede in the 92nd minute then it’s about concern over unfitness. So let’s be honest, goals are part of football and are both scored and conceded in injury time.
“I hate it when people question fitness because I think you saw today how fit the players are.”
Despite the victory, Flynn confirmed he did have a few things for his players to work on ready for future games.
The Exiles spent a large majority of the first-half without the ball and with Cambridge in the County area.
And Flynn wants his players to work on that as-well as the goal conceded in the second-half.
“I thought we were poor for the first half-hour of the first-half,” he said.
“Then the last 15 minutes of that half we were a lot better. We started playing a lot better football in their half, got the goal and I’m thinking we are going to come out positive in the second half.
“But in the second-half I thought we were worse if I’m totally honest.
“I’m still not happy with the goal even though it has gone in the top corner. We showed him onto his left-foot, but these are the things we have to learn.
“We are not the finished article but we’re going in the right direction.
“If we can pick up a win at a tough place like Cambridge without playing well then it’s a sign of a good team.”
The victory lifted County up to 9th place in the League 2 table and still just one point away from the play-off positions.
But Flynn remained insistent that he will not allow his players to get distracted by this good start or the stark contrast in fortunes for the club compared to this time last year.
“The club has improved,” he affirmed.
“We have improved as a football club and we’re going in the right direction. But I’m not getting carried away until we’re on at least 52 points.
“We’ll see how quick we can get there and then we’ll see how far we can go from there.
“I’ve got a smashing group of players who give me everything nine times out of ten and I really can’t praise them enough today for battling and getting the important win against a decent Cambridge team.”
He continued: “I never look behind me, I just never take anything for granted.
“I’ve worked hard in my life for my playing career and I’m working even harder for my managerial career.
“I’ve got great staff and a great bunch of players with me. I don’t take anything for granted, I want to do what is right for Newport County. And that is to get as many points as possible, so we can play with a bit of freedom.”
The Exiles now have a week to prepare for the start of the busy Christmas period, as Lincoln City visit Rodney Parade on Saturday for the first of four fixtures in just nine days.
And Flynn is hopeful of having players back ready for that game who were forced to withdraw during the Cambridge game through injury.
“Mark O’Brien had a kick on his calf so that is going to be sore for the next few days,” he confirmed.
“I’m hoping that is not too bad and then I took Pipey off as a precaution because he wasn’t moving too well.
“He had a shooting pain in his calf and again, they are substitutions I didn’t want to make but I had to and that’s part of football… as are 93rd minute winners.”
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AFTER THAT: It's a trip to Wycombe Wanderers on Boxing Day for the Exiles.
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