Mike Flynn says he was proud of the way in which the Exiles put together a spirited display in the second-half of the 3-1 defeat to Luton Town.
The home side virtually had the game wrapped up by half-time after getting all their goals in a frantic first-half.
First, Alan Sheehan’s 35-yard free-kick seemingly evaded everyone in the box to nestle into the far corner on 12 minutes, before Danny Hylton got his first of the afternoon ten minutes later.
Hylton was found in the centre by his strike-partner James Collins, with the 28-year-old reacting well to the cross and providing the instinctive backheeled finish to increase Luton’s advantage.
Hylton doubled his tally on 36 minutes, confidently dispatching his penalty down the middle to give the home side a comfortable advantage.
But as so often seen in recent times, the Exiles refused to go down without a fight, and got themselves back into the contest early in the second-half.
Captain Joss Labadie was the man to get the goal on 55 minutes, firing a shot through the legs of the goalkeeper after Frank Nouble had expertly won an aerial-duel to set up the midfielder.
Mickey Demetriou shot wide 60 seconds later as the Exiles continued to put together a much better showing in the second-half, Robbie Willmott also coming close late on.
But the Luton rear-guard stood firm to see out the victory, in the process condemning County to a third league defeat of the season – all of which have come on the road.
But Flynn was contempt with the second-half showing from his side.
He commented: “Second half, we got a goal, got some pride back, didn’t give up and if Mickey’s chance would have gone in when he just screwed it past the post then it could have been a very interesting last 20 minutes.
“But listen, the best team won today and in that first 45 minutes I have to give them credit because I thought they were excellent.”
And if the Exiles could have found another goal, the game could have completely changed.
The resilient showing entirely altered the mood around Kenilworth Road towards the end of the game, such was the improvement of the County performance.
And Flynn said he felt the Exiles had the home side concerned for a time during the game.
“We did have them worried for a spell,” he affirmed.
“Second-half we were a lot better, maybe Luton took their foot off the gas a little bit but there was a definite improvement from us and that’s encouraging.”
But ultimately the first-half display took the game away from the Exiles.
And Flynn admitted he was left unhappy by the opening 45 minutes.
He added: “I thought we were lucky to go in at half-time just 3-0 down to be honest.
“They were very good, we were very bad and it was unlike us in that first-half.
“I think the players knew in themselves what was wrong in the first-half, I think I’m always honest with them in my assessments and we weren’t at the races today unfortunately.
“That’s why Luton are definitely a promotion contender this season. I presume they have money to strengthen in January, have a good squad, a few players are injured or suspended so why not.
“They were very good in the first-half and that’s why they are a promotion favourite.”
For the game in Bedfordshire, Flynn elected to name an unchanged side for the third successive game.
But Flynn didn’t feel that tiredness could be used as a deciding factor in defeat, insisting his team selection was a long-thought out process.
He confirmed: “We’ve had a look at them this week and they looked really fresh, everything was good, the GPS readings were all spot on for everyone and I thought they earned the right to start here and go at them.
“I’ll be honest and say that I fancied us before the game but we didn’t turn up first-half and fair play to Luton they were very good against us.”
The defeat at Kenilworth Road came just a day after the news that loanee Reece Cole would be returning to Brentford following the decision that the midfielder will need surgery on a pre-existing knee injury.
And Flynn paid tribute to the hard-work of the midfielder during his time with the Exiles, and praised his parent club for their help with the loan transfer.
“I would really like to thank Brentford again for all there help regarding Reece,” he said.
“They’ve taken him back now, covered the medical fees which has helped us out and that’s a nice touch from Brentford. Obviously, I would like to wish Reece a speedy recovery but it’s not been a good few days seeing him leave.”
After three games in seven days, yielding six points, the Exiles now have a mid-week break before returning to Rodney Parade intent on continuing their unbeaten home streak when Yeovil Town come to South Wales.
And Flynn admitted a rest may be crucial for his players after a tiring week of football.
“It’s good to have a mid-week break,” he acknowledged.
“It allows us to recover and rest the boys up because next week’s game against Yeovil Town is going to be just as difficult.”