Mike Flynn admits he was left feeling both “fantastic” and “frustrated” after County’s 3-3 draw with Carlisle United.
In a stunning game of football at Rodney Parade, only one goal came in the opening 45 minutes.
Shawn McCoulsky was the man to get it for the Exiles, just two minutes before the break, with a clever dinked effort for his ninth of the season after a scramble in the box following a Matty Dolan delivery.
But the other five goals came within the opening 25 minutes of the restart, starting within the first 60 seconds as away captain Luke Joyce got the equaliser.
That came after another scramble in the box, with Joyce eventually stabbing home from all of two yards after Dan Butler had done so well to block the initial two attempts on the goal-line.
And just six minutes later the visitors were in-front. Kelvin Etuhu was found just inside the area from a cross-field pass and composed himself to fire through Mickey Demetriou and into the near post.
But County weren’t down for long and responded within four minutes of falling behind. This time Matty Dolan got his name on the scoresheet, firing a 25-yard free-kick over the wall and into the top corner.
The visitors retook the lead again, however, in just the 62nd minute, Ex-Exile Tom Miller coming back to haunt his former employers with a header from close range that wriggled through the legs of Joe Day.
Dolan ensured that goal wouldn’t become the knockout blow to the Exiles at Rodney Parade and duly scored another free-kick with 20 minutes remaining.
It was a carbon-copy of the first, although another five yards further back this time, as even a defender on the goal-line couldn’t stop it from nestling in the top right corner.
That was the first time in professional football that Dolan had scored twice in a game, ensuring County maintained their unbeaten home record against Carlisle United in League 2.
And Flynn was pleased with the resilience shown by his side to come from behind twice in the second-half.
He commented: “The disappointing thing is the goals we conceded but the positive is the fightback that my players showed today.
“When we went 2-1 down, they could have felt sorry for themselves and at 3-2 down a lot of teams would have folded.
“Matty Dolan then goes and puts a free-kick into the top corner and then Joss misses two chances at the end and the goalkeeper pulls off a top save against Dan Butler.
“That’s the fightback that we are about and I’m just disappointed with the goals we conceded. Other than that, it was a fantastic performance.”
The draw at Rodney Parade was the first stalemate between the two sides in just over 30 years since the 2-2 draw on 28th February 1987.
And Flynn thought his players were deserving of all three points this time out.
“I’m really frustrated because it’s two points dropped,” he stated.
“We were absolutely excellent after the first ten minutes because we passed the ball non-stop, side to side, through balls, they really were excellent.
“We get the goal, 1-0 up, and it was funny because me and Lennie were walking out just before the start of the second-half saying they would have to come up with something good unless we do something silly.
“I could not believe it. It was 60 seconds gone or whatever and we did something silly.
“We’ve been there, seen it, done it - both me and Lennie, and you have to keep focused for 95 minutes these days.
“Unfortunately, we weren’t and that’s what has cost us. There will be games where our defenders keep us in it and the strikers will falter but we are a team and we win together and lose together.”
Speaking more on the goals conceded by the Exiles, Flynn confirmed he hopes it was merely a one-off from his squad.
“Sloppy defending – that’s exactly what it was,” he said.
“They were three cheap goals and I hope we don’t see any more of it. It wasn’t good enough, but the boys played really well today and the fighting spirit they showed is a lot more positive than the negative that happened.
“Communication problem between the goalkeeper and the defenders from a long-throw and if that wasn’t bad enough, we literally go and do the exact same thing straight after.
“The third one, one of our strikers switched off and didn’t follow the defender back. If they don’t do the jobs that we tell them to do, then you tend to get punished.
“It’s harsh because I thought we were very good. Let’s hope it’s a rude awakening and they learn quick from it.”
Following his two-superb free-kicks, Matty Dolan obviously came in for some individual praise post-match.
Those goals earned him both of the man-of-the-match awards from the game, including from match sponsors Solutions In Technology and the fans poll on Twitter.
And Flynn has challenged his midfielder to replicate that level of performance every week.
“That’s what I want him to do – he’s got an absolute wand of a left foot,” he affirmed.
“But I thought he was tremendous today, forget about the free-kicks, he kept the ball moving, made the right passes.
“He looked forward, he was excellent today and that’s the Matty Dolan that we need to see every week.”
The draw means the Exiles slip three places in the League 2 table to 12th, although are only six points off the final automatic promotion place.
And Flynn is adamant that it is crucial to stay with the pack of teams fighting for the play-off spaces.
He said: “It’s a strange day today because we’ve dropped three places but gained a point on the play-offs.
“Shows you how tight the league is really. We totally outplayed one of our play off rivals today and I think we’ve gifted them a point so I’m both frustrated and really pleased with the performance.”
The Exiles now have a week to prepare for next Saturday’s trip to Cambridge United.
And the squad will definitely be boosted by the return of Scot Bennett, who recovered enough from the hip adductor injury sustained at Swindon Town two weeks ago to make the bench.
And Flynn admitted he was tempted to play his defender in some capacity during the game.
“I nearly brought him on,” he confirmed.
“I’ll be honest and say that if we were away then I may have started him too. But we were at home and I wanted to win the game.
“Even at the end, I could have brought him on and taken the point, but I wanted to win. We outplayed them, even created three chances in injury time and out of the 23 chances we created during the game they blocked nine of them.
“It’s good defending by Carlisle to a point and it’s just unfortunate that we gave sloppy goals away.”
Flynn made just the one change from the side that played against Cambridge in the Emirates FA Cup last week, as Robbie Willmott was reinstated to the midfield.
That saw Ben Tozer miss out completely from the matchday squad and Flynn confirmed post-match that Tozer has been struggling with a virus although isn’t expected to be out for a lengthy amount of time.
“Illness,” he added.
“He spoke to the doctor last night and he had muscle aches and wasn’t looking great.
“He wanted to play, that’s the environment we have here, all of them don’t want to lose their shirt because they don’t know when they will get it back.
“I had to make a decision today and I didn’t think it was fair on Ben or the rest of the team to play him.
“Fair play to him, he still showed up to watch today and I’m sure he’ll be back next week.”
NEXT UP| It's an away trip to Cambridge United as the Exiles look to Emirates FA Cup success against the Us with a good result in the league. Click here for tickets.
NEXT UP AT HOME| We welcome Lincoln City on the 23rd December in our last home game of a remarkable 2017 at Rodney Parade. Get tickets here.