Ben White’s pass for Padraig Amond’s opener in the 1-1 draw with Cheltenham Town was so good that it was “Premier League” quality, according to Exiles manager Mike Flynn.
Both sides had chances in the first-half of the match at the LCI Rail Stadium, Robbie Willmott having the best opportunity of the opening 45 minutes with an attempt that was cleared off the goal line by Cheltenham defender Taylor Moore.
The Robins also fashioned some opportunities, Joe Day having to do particularly well to keep out both Mo Eisa and Kevin Dawson with reaction saves.
But just ten minutes into the second-half the deadlock was finally broken as Amond got his first goal since October 14th with one of the goals of the season.
White’s 30-yard pass had the perfect pace on it to allow Amond to loop the ball from about 18 yards over home goalkeeper Scott Flinders and into the back of the net, sparking mass jubilation from behind the goal from the 916 travelling County supporters.
Cheltenham continued to fightback against a stubborn County defence and got their reward for their efforts as Eisa got his 11th goal of the season for the Robins with 13 minutes remaining.
It came from a Flinders goal-kick, with Eisa superbly controlling the ball on the edge-of-the-area. The striker then waltzed his way into the area before calmly dispatching the opportunity into Day’s bottom left corner.
The point in Gloucestershire means County will end 2017 in 11th position, just four points off the play-off places and seven off the automatic promotion places heading into the New Year.
But it was the manner of County’s goal that best pleased Flynn post-match.
“Listen, it was a Premier League pass, forget about the header for a minute,” he affirmed.
“It was an unbelievable pass and I knew as soon as he hit it, what he was trying to do with it.
“Just the way he shaped up and whatever but Podge, I don’t think anybody else would have scored that header because it was an unbelievable header.
“It was a great goal all round and it’s just frustrating that we didn’t kill them off because we had a few chances to do that before they scored.”
The Exiles certainly had the better of things against the Robins, having 56% of the possession. County also edged the corner count ten to eight, while both teams had nine shots on target. [View the match stats here]
And Flynn feels it wouldn’t have been unjust had the Exiles gone on to win the game.
“Yeah, I thought [we deserved it] because I think we created enough chances,” he added.
“I thought they had two better chances in the first-half but that’s all they had really.
“We had so many opportunities again that we really do need to take them. We need to kill teams off and be ruthless.
“I thought we were the better team but fair play to Cheltenham, after we scored they came back and made it difficult.”
Despite both being breached during the game, it was certainly a good afternoon for both goalkeepers at the LCI Rail Stadium.
Day dealt sublimely with the constant aerial presence from 6’2” Robins striker Brian Graham as-well as the host of smart saves made in both halves.
And Flynn thought Day proved why he is held in such high esteem within the division.
He stated: “I thought he made two excellent saves in the first-half and he came for some good crosses second-half.
“Other than that, he didn’t really have too much to do. Their goalkeeper was a lot busier than ours I think.
“But Joe is one of the best in the league, if not the best and I’m glad we’ve got him.”
Flinders also had to be alert to prevent County from getting a late goal, twice denying Frank Nouble and Mickey Demetriou in the final 15 minutes with fingertip saves.
And Flynn was quick to commend the experienced goalkeeper post-match, as the 31-year old won the man-of-the-match award as chosen by the Cheltenham fans.
“You’ve all seen it, their goalkeeper was man-of-the-match,” he continued.
“He was voted man-of-the-match for them and that says everything I think. I’m frustrated we haven’t won but I’m pleased with the way that the boys responded after Boxing Day.”
The Exiles certainly had to earn their point the hard way against the Robins, as they made the trip lacking key first-team players.
Captain Joss Labadie and Vice-Captain Mark O’Brien were both suspended, while the squad were also struggling with a sickness bug that affected a few players.
But Flynn thought his side coped admirably with the adversity in Gloucestershire.
“I don’t like to make excuses, but these are the bare facts,” he confirmed.
“We have two of our influential players suspended, Ben Tozer and Matty Dolan were ill. Sean Rigg is injured and you’ve got Calaum and Marlon who are still injured.
“We had six people on the bench today and two of them are kids.
“We’re saying right at the end that we want to change it because I thought it was a little bit open in the midfield.
“I wanted to shut that up and we just couldn’t do it. I wasn’t on the bench obviously, but I probably would have been tempted to do it today just because of the way it was going. I would have sat in there and just headed and kicked.”
Those injury absentees did afford Tom Owen-Evans the chance to get just his third league start for the Exiles this season, the last of which came away at Morecambe on 16th September.
And Flynn was pleased with the output from his midfielder post-match.
“I thought he did very well today,” he said.
“You see at the end there with his youthful exuberance where I maybe needed an older head.
“That wasn’t just him mind, it was all three of them in there. I would have liked it a little tighter for that last 15/20 minutes but in all honesty, I think we created enough chances to win two games today.”
The Exiles don’t have long to prepare for their next match, however, as they face Exeter City at Rodney Parade tomorrow.
And Flynn is confident of having a few players back for the game.
He confirmed: “Joss Labadie is back for the Exeter game obviously after his suspension which is good because he was a big miss today.
“It was a tossup what we did today with Matty Dolan and Ben Tozer as-well. That’s why Matty came off, he was weak but fair play to him I didn’t think he ever hid and he still wanted to get on the football.
“He kept trying to do the right things and these are the things that you don’t see behind the scenes.”
That game with Exeter City will be the first game for the Exiles in 2018.
Reflecting on a turbulent 2017, Flynn believes his side have set themselves up perfectly for the second-half of the season.
He added: “The way we stayed up and the way we have kicked on now, I think it has probably been a better second-half of the year than it was in the first-half.
“You only have to look at it because last season we came here to Cheltenham and we were as good as relegated.
“We’ve improved a huge amount. We’ve got one of the smallest budgets, definitely one of the smallest squads and we have overachieved.
“Let’s not beat around the bush, the players have been excellent, got themselves in a right good position and that’s given us the opportunity to try to do something.”
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