Mike Flynn believes his Newport County AFC side must hone in on the spells of positive play during the defeat to Mansfield Town and use them as a springboard for the rest of the season.
The Exiles started the game in Nottinghamshire on the front foot but were hit by a sucker punch after 12 minutes as Tyler Walker bundled home from close range to give Mansfield the lead on his debut.
Just after that, the home side had to rely on the very best reflexes of goalkeeper Conrad Logan to keep their early lead, the Stags shot stopper getting his angles right to save Padraig Amond’s bullet header and the follow-up rebound.
Andrew Crofts, Matty Dolan and Jamille Matt all tested Logan before the half-time whistle, while at the other end Craig Davies hit the base of the post with a curling effort from outside the area.
The match was finely poised as the teams returned from the tunnel for the second half, but it was unfortunately Mansfield who again found the net on another two occasions to take the game away from County.
It was a day for the Stags debutants at the One Call Stadium, Walker this time turning provider as his superb cross found Otis Khan in the centre who headed home on 56 minutes to double the home side’s advantage.
The former Yeovil Town midfielder – who commanded a transfer fee when making the move to Nottinghamshire - then completed the scoring with a sublime strike after 64 minutes, picking his spot before curling an unstoppable strike into the right corner from just outside the area.
Despite the scoreline, County certainly never gave up and almost sparked a mini-revival in the closing moments of the contest.
Padraig Amond’s quick reactions took him past the onrushing Logan but he was denied by the quick-thinking of defender Hayden White who cleared the attempt off the goal line, before substitute Josh Sheehan saw a curling close-range effort tipped past the post by the Stags shot stopper.
Ultimately, there was to be no way back for the Exiles as they started the 2018/19 campaign with defeat in Nottinghamshire, but Flynn could still take encouragement from the glimpses of defensive solidarity and creative intent on show by his side at the One Call Stadium.
He affirmed: “I think the worst period in the game was the 20-minute period in the second-half where they scored the two goals because we lost the battle really.
“They punished us, scored the two goals and really went for the jugular.
“It was frustrating because first-half I thought even though we were losing 1-0, we were playing quite well.
“Yeah, I do think [the opening goal came against the run of play.] Even after that, I thought we reacted well but unfortunately, you can’t have those 20-minute periods in a game like we did in the second-half.
“We were second best all over the pitch in that time frame, we shouldn’t have allowed the free header and then he had time on the edge of the area to pick his spot.
“You can’t give the opposition that time, we didn’t get that time because you could see they went right to the end. Even when Podge took it around the goalkeeper, their man clears it off the line.
“Mansfield are a strong team and credit to them for seeing us off.”
The success on the opening day of the season for the home side was the first for them since 2016, when they coincidentally beat the Exiles 3-2 at Rodney Parade.
County have of course also beaten the Stags to kick-off a new campaign, having been on the right side of a seven-goal thriller in the season that saw both clubs promoted to the Football League in 2012/13.
Encounters with the Stags usually produce a host of goals (29 in 11 League Two meetings) and Flynn wanted to praise his opponents post-match.
He continued: “Mansfield were stronger than us. You have to give the opposition the credit sometimes, you can’t just say that we were bad.
“They got on top of the game, had the 20-minute spell and we didn’t manage to see it out. We will have to come to places like this where you’re going to have that type of period in a game and you have to see it off.
“We weren’t able to do that today, but we go on to next week now.”
County will have the opportunity to immediately bounce back and secure their first victory of the season when they entertain Crewe Alexandra at Rodney Parade next Saturday.
The Railwaymen will head to South Wales sitting atop of the League Two table after the opening fixture, following their emphatic 6-0 success over Morecambe yesterday.
But Flynn believes his side will rise to that test and set the ground running for the home campaign this season.
He added: “I think I’ve said before that Crewe Alexandra always start the season well, but we have to react now and get ready for that test next Saturday.
“I’m not going to overreact to this result because I wouldn’t have overreacted if we had won here either.
“The boys dug in deep today, put a shift in and like I said, it was that 20-minute spell that cost us.
“We’ve got to get together, stick together like we’ve said we are going to do all season and go again next weekend.”
Some early team-news for that game sees Flynn optimistic of a return for the players who missed out at Mansfield through injury.
Mark O’Brien and Robbie Willmott were the two absentees from the matchday squad, but Flynn is expecting to be able to call upon a full roster next weekend.
“Robbie Willmott and Mark O’Brien were both injured,” he said.
“It is what it is, that’s no excuse for today because I thought we played some good stuff first-half. It’s just the goals we conceded weren’t good enough.
“I’m hoping they both will be back next week so that we have a full squad. Everybody who played was fine today.”
In the hours leading up to kick-off in Nottinghamshire, the Exiles announced the signing of goalkeeper Nick Townsend on a two-year contract.
The shot stopper arrives at Rodney Parade having featured for Barnsley last season in the second-tier and Flynn believes the 23-year old will provide the perfect competition for Joe Day during his stay with the club.
“Nick is a very good goalkeeper,” he affirmed.
“He played in the Championship last season and I think it’s a big coup for us because he will push Joe Day. Nick is very talented.
“100% I think he could challenge Joe and I think that can only be positive for the team. I’m sure it’ll be a very good battle and what it has done already is raise the level in training.
“He’s not just a good goalkeeper, he’s a winner and he demands the high standards that we will all want moving forward.”