Mike Flynn has admitted that he was left feeling frustrated after watching his Newport County AFC side suffer a second defeat from three home matches as Stevenage secured a 1-0 victory at Rodney Parade.
The entirety of the first-half was arguably dominated by the away side in South Wales – V9 academy graduate Danny Newton passing up chances on several occasions, while Mickey Demetriou was on hand to clear an attempt off the line after Joe Day had scuffed a punch from a high-ball.
The warning signs were certainly there that Stevenage would finally breach the County defence and they got their goal three minutes before the interval.
Full-back Joe Martin played a delightful pass into space for the overlapping Ronnie Henry to get hold of, with the Stevenage captain providing the perfect cross to the far post for Chris Whelpdale to head home his first goal of the season.
The energetic Aaron Collins was providing County with some attacking intent from that first-half, ghosting past players on several occasions like they weren’t there, but the Exiles couldn’t replicate their clinicality shown in previous matches as Padraig Amond chipped over the crossbar in their best opening.
More chances fell the way of Newton in the second-half, but he still couldn’t add anymore to his 15-goals already in his debut EFL season – Demetriou and Ben White both required to clear goal bound attempts from the striker.
Ben Tozer narrowly headed over the crossbar and onto the roof of the net as the Exiles tried in vain to get an equaliser late-on, but the Hertfordshire side held on for a victory which extended their unbeaten run against County to seven matches.
A clean sheet for Stevenage goalkeeper Tom King meant he was only the fourth goalkeeper in 26 matches to keep County out at Rodney Parade – and Flynn attributed the defeat to a sub-standard performance in the opening 45 minutes.
“We lost the game because of our first-half performance,” he affirmed.
“It was a terrible goal to concede because it was a free header in our box. The first-half was poor for me if I’m honest. Stevenage wanted it more, they won more challenges and they looked stronger than us.”
Crawley Town were the only team in the first seven places directly above County to pick up maximum points – and Flynn says that makes the defeat even more difficult to take as the Exiles could have closed the gap at Rodney Parade.
He stated: “It is [in danger of petering out.] I don’t understand why that is because if we had won today then we would have closed the gap again because all of the others lost.
“It’s even more frustrating now seeing the table - but I’ve just said and given them a rude awakening in [the dressing-room] that it’s lucky that we’ve got points on the board at the moment because we are making some terrible mistakes and we didn’t really look like scoring today.”
The Exiles now need to claw back a difference of 11 points from the final six league matches if they are to stand any chance of aspiring into a play-off position before the end of the season.
But Flynn refused to believe that County have nothing left to play for before May 5th – insisting they will do everything they can to try and force the issue of a top-seven position.
“It looks improbable but we just have to keep going,” he said.
“We have to keep battling and listen, a few of them are out of contract in the summer.
“You are only as good as your last game is a famous old saying and that was coming against a team who really have nothing to play for. They did look up for it.”
Another frustrating factor for Flynn at Rodney Parade was that he felt his side slipped even further behind the levels shown in the defeat to Crewe Alexandra last month.
County were more than a match for play-off chasing Coventry City last time out, shot stopper Lee Burge preserving a point for the Sky Blues with a stunning save to deny Padraig Amond on Good Friday – but the Exiles weren’t able to replicate that performance as Dino Maamria marked his return to South Wales with a win.
And Flynn was left feeling disappointed after seeing his side suffer just their fourth home league defeat of the campaign.
He commented: “I actually think the first-half today was a lot worse than the Crewe game if I’m honest.
“In the Crewe game our decision making was wrong, the goals we conceded were wrong, but at least we looked fitter than them and stronger than them.
“And unfortunately today, first half we definitely didn’t [look like it.] Like I’ve said, second-half there was more huffing and puffing than really creating anything.”
He added: “It was totally different from [eight days ago] when we drew with Coventry City.
“It just wasn’t good enough. Second-half, we huffed and puffed but like I’ve said, we could still be there now and we wouldn’t have scored.”
The Exiles were missing several key players at Rodney Parade through different injury problems.
Captain Joss Labadie has already been ruled out for the remainder of the campaign with an anterior-cruciate-ligament problem, while vice-captain Mark O’Brien, Paul Hayes and Shawn McCoulsky were all missing from the matchday squad.
And Flynn believes missing those players for the game contributed to the defeat.
He continued: “I just have to get back to picking our best team and putting our most reliable players back on the pitch.
“Look, let’s not dress it up – we were missing Mark O’Brien, Joss Labadie, Paul Hayes and Shawn McCoulsky today.
“We had a few missing today but the boys on the pitch still should have done better. I’ll take responsibility for that.”
Those players missing through injury now have a further six days to rest and recover before County go again against play-off chasing Swindon Town next weekend.
O’Brien’s absence from the squad was revealed post-match as being down to a knee problem, while Paul Hayes didn’t recover in time from the calf injury picked up last time out.
And Flynn also admitted post-match that the Exiles may have been missing other players for the game as a couple only just recovered in time.
“His [Mark’s] knee swelled up in training after Thursday,” he commented.
“Pipey only just made it to be fair. There was a few – Paul Hayes and Shawn obviously. Marlon Jackson was ill yesterday.
“And look, I made some of those changes at the end to just go for it. We were two at the back at one point, 1v1, so I wanted to get that goal.
“But as much as they sat back, we couldn’t create anything worthwhile.”
It was also revealed in the week that striker Shawn McCoulsky has been missing in recent matches due to a problem with pericarditis [inflammation of the pericardium.]
But Flynn wanted to again reassure supporters that County and Bristol City would do everything they could to get McCoulsky back on the pitch as soon as possible.
“I’ve spoken to Shawn again and he seems in good spirits,” he stated.
“He needs total rest, so I don’t know [on a specific time-scale for his return.] Bristol City want him to see their own doctor, he’s their player so I’ll have to go off what they say about it.”
The Exiles will be looking to put that performance behind them with a victory against Swindon Town next week - join us there!
NEXT UP| We welcome Swindon Town to Rodney Parade. Remember this match is ALL TICKET and tickets will be available until 7pm Friday. You can buy online today by clicking here.
AFTER THAT | We're on the road at Barnet FC. Click here for tickets.
THEN | League leaders Accrington Stanley are joining us at Rodney Parade on the 24th April.