Mike Flynn has once again heaped praise on his Newport County AFC squad for showing the resilience and unity required to pick up results in League Two.
After an encouraging start by the Exiles which saw Jamille Matt denied twice in the opening five minutes, County were ultimately left to pay for their only mistake in the contest when Jayden Stockley struck after 21 minutes.
The imposing presence of fellow Grecians attacker Jonathan Forte in the area caused problems for the County defence, allowing Stockley to ghost in behind and guide Jake Taylor’s free-kick into the far corner.
Josh Sheehan shot over as County searched for an immediate response, but neither side could muster anything else of note in the first-half.
After the restart, the home side had a couple of opportunities to put the result beyond question, but they couldn’t put the Exiles away.
Joe Day didn’t know too much about it when Stockley powered a header straight at his face, whilst substitute Nicky Law hit the crossbar with a curling effort.
Day’s heroics again kept County in the contest with ten minutes remaining, the shot stopper seeing a Dean Moxey effort first ricochet off himself and then the post, before he was able to punch clear of the danger zone.
That slender lead was always going to cause nerves in the home side and the Exiles made them pay with seven minutes remaining when grabbing a point.
Mark Harris had the desired effect when coming off the bench, getting the better of a collision with Troy Brown before calmly slotting past Christy Pym for his first goal in professional football.
That meant the Exiles were able to claim a result after falling behind for the first time this season and for the second week running, Flynn highlighted his sides resilience as the main positive from St James Park.
He affirmed: “I thought that without being great today, we were actually the better team.
“It was only really the five-minute spell in the second-half where they could have got a second and it was only from a great save by our goalkeeper that they didn’t.
“I thought we gave away a sloppy goal, but we were the better team in my opinion. We kept going, showed some character and again, the resilience needed to be a good football team.”
Before the game, Exeter City had been sitting atop of the League Two table after manager – and former Exile – Matt Taylor had made a perfect start to life in management.
They had also been losing play-off finalists in the last two years and had knocked out a Championship side in the Carabao Cup at St James Park in midweek.
And whilst Flynn again reiterated his belief that the table proves absolutely nothing at this stage of the season, he did admit this result shows just how much progress his squad are making when they can come to the promotion favourites and be disappointed to only get a point.
He continued: “Just to reiterate what I’ve been saying before, I don’t take any notice of the league table at all. I didn’t come here thinking okay we’re playing the league leaders today, shall we go a little more cautious?
“We will never think anything like that, we put together a game plan to go and win the football match. It nearly came off today.
“I’ve got a very good bunch of lads. Exeter are a very strong unit and you can see why they have been there or thereabouts for the last few years.
“If Joe Day doesn’t make that save, then they go away with the points without really deserving them. And that would have been harder to take. So even though it is slightly frustrating, the character and the resilience that the boys showed to keep going and score that late goal was pleasing and satisfying.”
The result in Devon rounded off a good week for County after they secured a courageous victory over Crewe Alexandra last weekend, before storming to a comprehensive victory against Cambridge United on Tuesday.
Flynn added: “It’s been a good week. This is a tough place to come, Exeter are effective at what they do, Jayden Stockley upfront is a handful so it’s a good point.
“It was a good point because I didn’t think we were quite at our best. It was a little bit frustrating because we were able to be the better team without being at or best.
“It’s frustrating that we couldn’t get a few more goals.”
Harris’ late intervention now means that all of County’s strikers have hit the target within the first four matches in all competitions this season.
And while Flynn was happy to praise his full squad post-match, he did have a special mention for the Cardiff City loanee.
He continued: “Yeah he was [clinical with the shot.] He’s an outstanding young lad.
“I’ve just told him now that he tried to mess it up three times, kept running into a defender, dribbling back but he did take the finish well.
“I spoke to Sparky today to tell him that he wasn’t dropped, I picked the team that I thought would beat the team in-front of us.
“I don’t always get it right and I felt that Jamille would pin their two centre-backs and Josh Sheehan would then be allowed to pick up lots of second balls in that area.
“I think Sparky can be a very good footballer. He’s learning all the time, got a good attitude and as we’ve seen, he can play in a few positions. He’s played up-front, on the right and on the left.
“He’s got a good future ahead of him as long as he keeps learning and working hard.”
He continued: “I’m absolutely delighted for him to get his first goal. That’s all our strikers now who have scored so that’s a positive.
“At the minute, the boys are playing some very good stuff and they are enjoying being together and being a team.
“I want this healthy competition. I want these problems, I want to be sitting down with players explaining why I’ve left them out because I don’t want easy decisions to make.
“You can see they all get along and to be honest, it’s a joy to be in charge of them.”
County wouldn’t have been able to take anything from the contest had it not been for Day’s quick reactions late on.
Speaking about his goalkeeper, Flynn affirmed: “It’s an outstanding save, reaction save because he didn’t know too much about it but he’s in the right position to be able to do that. He probably saved us two points today.
“His kicking has been very good, he’s improved on that and I think he’s got another level to go to in his game.
“I’ve touched on Joe Day’s save, he just said to me that he didn’t know too much about it, but he’s an outstanding goalkeeper and we are fortunate to have him.”
For the contest in Devon, County were missing a couple of players, most notably captain Andrew Crofts.
Flynn has now confirmed that Crofts is suffering from a toe injury, and decided to rest him as a precaution so he has the best chance of making the starting team on Tuesday night against Notts County.
Flynn confirmed: “He should be fine for Tuesday. It was one of them where if he played today then he might not have been able to play again on Tuesday. The way I was looking at it, I think he’s more suited to what we might need on Tuesday than today.
“It was a decision I made and thankfully it was the right one because we’ve come away with a point.
“Andrew has a big infection in his toe. It’s basically a blister that got infected, he’s had antibiotics and seen the doctor, but it hasn’t settled down.
“It’s a real sore one so let’s hope it finally disappears this week. It’s been a case so far of managing him, restricting his games including most of pre-season.
“I bet he’ll be thankful when it finally disappears.”
On the more positive injury front, Mark O’Brien was able to come back into the matchday squad for the first time this season after overcoming the injury picked up against Hereford FC in pre-season.
Robbie Willmott was still missing, and Flynn also admitted that he may be without David Pipe in midweek after the 34-year old was forced to withdraw at half-time.
On those injury problems, Flynn said: “It’s just an impact injury [with Pipey]. I think he had a kick on his leg, so he’s got a bit of a lump there, it was sore at half-time, so he couldn’t carry on.
“I’m not sure about Tuesday. It’s one of them where it might settle down quickly, but it’ll be a tough game on Tuesday.
“Robbie is still out, to be honest I’m not sure how long that’s going to be.
“I don’t think he’ll be ready for Tuesday, it’s a frustrating one because he’s a big player for us. He can play in numerous positions and he’s a lot better than some of the praise he gets.
“Mark O’Brien is back so again, it gives us more competition for places. I’m sure he’ll be frustrated missing the start of the season because these boys at the back have been outstanding.
“He’s got to earn the right to get back into the team.”
NEXT UP.... We have two League Matches at home.
NEXT UP ... we welcome Notts County to Rodney Parade on Tuesday 21st August.
AFTER THAT ... Grimsby Town are our visitors on Saturday 25th August.