Mike Flynn says he couldn’t fault the battling determination from his players in the 3-0 defeat to Notts County.
The Exiles had made a really bright start to proceedings at Meadow Lane, with home goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons forced to keep out efforts from Frank Nouble, Mickey Demetriou and Dan Butler in the opening 20 minutes.
But the match-changing moment soon followed when Butler was shown a straight red card on 33 minutes.
Butler and Notts’ Matt Tootle had both attempted to win an aerial duel on the half-way line which left Tootle on the floor, leading to Butler being dismissed for allegedly leading into the challenge with his elbow.
And from there, Notts County swiftly moved top of the League 2 table, thanks to an inspired display from Nottingham Forest loanee Jorge Grant.
Just two minutes after Butler’s sending off, Grant capped off a quick counter-attack with a composed finish into the bottom corner from just outside the area.
The 22-year old then turned provider for ex-Newcastle United star Shola Ameobi, who bagged his second of the campaign on 53 minutes.
It again came from a speedy attack, which led to Grant producing a pinpoint drilled delivery into Ameobi’s path to smash the ball in off the underside of the crossbar.
Grant then got his second of the afternoon just two minutes later, to move him up to double figures this season, capping off a scintillating performance by stabbing home after Joe Day had originally made a point-blank save to keep out his header.
The defeat saw the Exiles slip out of the play-off spots and down to 8th place in the table, but Flynn was pleased with the attitude of his players throughout the game.
He said: “The players have given me everything, they worked their socks off.
“I’m proud of the players with the attitude and the work ethic that they showed in tough circumstances.”
And while Flynn admitted that Butler’s dismissal would ultimately go on to affect the game, he wouldn’t be drawn on the incident excessively post-match.
He added: “I don’t want to go into it too much but I think it was the wrong decision.
“Of course it changed the game – He’s made what he thought was an honest decision and unfortunately he got it wrong.
“Notts County are a good team and they don’t need much help.
“I’d be the first one to say that it deserved a red and I’ve got to be honest and say that at first I thought it was a penalty to them in the first-half.
“I’ve been told by the fourth official that Dan went in with excessive force so that’s interesting. To be fair to him, the fourth official was the best I’ve had all season because he was brilliant today.”
Flynn was encouraged, however, by the positive start made by the Exiles during the game.
“I thought we were slightly the better team [before the red card],” he affirmed.
“We were getting crosses in the box. We then played some fantastic football when down to 10 men.
“I’m proud of the players – they kept going and it’s unfortunate that the game has been spoilt today.”
The result leaves the Exiles winless in four games from all competitions, although that is not worrying Flynn at the moment.
He commented: “Everybody will start saying it’s a mini-blip well fine, it’s a mini-blip.
“We’ve got one point out of nine, we did that last season and went on to win five in a row so that’s not concerning me because I know the effort is there and there is some quality in there.”
Flynn was, however, left frustrated at the manner in which the Exiles conceded the three goals in Nottingham.
“We conceded some sloppy goals,” he commented.
“I’m very disappointed with the first goal because even though the referee had changed the game, I don’t think the sending off had anything to do with the way we conceded the first goal if I’m totally honest.
“To be fair to Notts County, they smelt a bit of blood and they went for it.
“Notts County have won 3-0, they could have scored a few more, I’m not happy with the goals that we conceded but my boys kept going and kept working so it’s just one of those days that I’m going to scratch off if I’m honest.”
The Exiles now have a full week to prepare for next Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup First Round clash with Walsall at Rodney Parade.
And while Flynn was content to have a full week’s rest, he did also allude to wanting a game in midweek to truly get over the defeat.
“I’ll be honest and say that I wish we had a game Tuesday now,” he stated.
“But, at least it gives us a full week to hopefully get players back. It gives us time to dust ourselves down, work on the training ground with what we need to improve upon.”
The Exiles travelled to Nottingham without key trio Joss Labadie, David Pipe and Mark O’Brien.
Pipe didn’t travel due to illness while O’Brien and Labadie sat out through their respective injuries.
But Flynn is optimistic of having positive news regarding his captain and two vice-captains ahead of next weekend’s game.
He commented: “We were missing three of our leaders today in Joss Labadie, Mark O’Brien and David Pipe.
“Pipey had a sickness bug yesterday and wasn’t able to eat today. I wasn’t going to risk his health and put him in a positon that’s he’s not comfortable with so it’s not been great in that respect.
“Mark’s injury has flared up again. I gave him a few days off last week to try and manage it and do the right thing.
“But he felt it again Thursday so it’s been a disappointing few days.”
NEXT UP: We face League One Walsall FC in the First Round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday 4th November. Get your tickets here.
AFTER THAT: The Walsall match begins a run of three home games in six days as we take on Cheltenham Town in the Checkatrade Trophy (kick off 7.30pm, 7th November) and then Port Vale in the League (7.45pm, 10th November). Click here to buy tickets.