Mike Flynn heaped praise on his side’s character after Newport County AFC were able to bounce back from conceding late to strike at the death and beat Notts County 3-2 at Rodney Parade.
As is becoming quite familiar this season, the Exiles again started proceedings on the front foot as Mark Harris and Padraig Amond were combining well and causing havoc to the visitors up-front.
But the away side delivered a killer blow to County when scoring against the run of play after just 12 minutes of action.
Enzio Boldewijn – arguably Notts County’s best player this season despite their poor start – did well to skip past the challenge of Dan Butler out-wide, before sending a swirling delivery into the area for Kane Hemmings to break clear of the defence and tap home his first goal of the campaign.
The Exiles weren’t about to let that early setback affect them, however, and they turned the game on its head in a stunning spell of 120 seconds from the 24th minute.
Fraser Franks opened his account in County colours when heading home a Matty Dolan corner-kick, before Amond stole the ball off Notts captain Richard Duffy and squared for Mark Harris to finish ruthlessly in off the post for his second in as many games.
From that point forth, the game seemed to quieten down to a much steadier pace and both midfields were having to work extremely hard to nullify the other’s attacking intent.
But it only takes one moment of brilliance to create an opening and when Boldewijn seized the initiative, Notts County were level with three minutes remaining.
The Dutchman’s cross-field pass found substitute Kristian Dennis at the far post, the summer signing needing one touch to get the ball under his spell before stabbing past Day for the equaliser.
Some other sides would have caved in when conceding so late, but it only seemed to spur County on, and the Exiles sparked wild scenes inside Rodney Parade with virtually the last kick of the game.
A looping ball into the area looked a little too deep but Amond was able to use all his might to head back into the danger area, where the ball sat perfectly for substitute Jamille Matt to tap home the most dramatic of late winners.
That ability to bounce back from the heartbreak of Notts County’s equaliser showed the true character embodied by the squad at Rodney Parade – something Mike Flynn highlighted as a key attribute from his side post-match.
He affirmed: “We keep seeming to leave it late against Notts County at home. But the two goals we conceded tonight made it much more of a difficult night than it should have been.
“The same happened against Exeter as-well on Saturday. We conceded when we were on top but again, we had chances to kill them off tonight. At 2-1, we really should have made it 3-1, 4-1 – their keeper made two good saves to be fair, but those chances have to go in the back of the net.
“And then we gave another sloppy goal away. That was very, very disappointing but the boys showed their character, their togetherness and we managed to get the third goal and the winner.”
The character embodied by the Exiles to secure that late winner at Rodney Parade perfectly illustrated the team’s resilience and willingness to never give up on the cause.
And while Flynn was adamant that his players could have made his life that little bit easier by confirming the victory earlier in proceedings, he couldn’t fault the team’s never say die attitude or their insistence on fighting until the end.
He continued: “It’s not good for my stress levels. Lennie has just told me that I’ll be dead by 55.
“They are a great group. The character, resilience, good habits showed through tonight – they kept going.
“Look, you’re disappointed when they score so late, but I know my players, they don’t give up and that’s a very important trait to have.
“We probably could have thought after they scored so late that we would take a draw because they’d have some momentum.
“But we thought no, let’s go for it and it was a fantastic header back by Padraig Amond and I’m glad I brought Jamille on.”
Ahead of the contest with the Magpies, Flynn made two changes to the side that battled resolutely to a draw with early pace setters Exeter City on Saturday.
Of those changes, Harris came back into the starting side as a reward for his late intervention at St James Park.
The Cardiff City loanee made it two in two games when netting County’s second of the night and his link-up play with Amond was top-notch throughout - and the pair could probably have felt aggrieved to not get more goals between themselves.
And Flynn commended his strike pairing for exploiting the weaknesses of the Notts County defence that he and his coaches had highlighted ahead of the encounter.
He confirmed: “We work on those things and that’s why I selected Mark to play tonight. We knew he would cause them problems, he’s a fantastic finisher and he’s got a bright future ahead of him as soon as he gets up to speed fully with the men’s game. He’s a good prospect.
“I knew his pace would cause them problems and funnily enough, all we did in the first 15-20 minutes was boom it up the pitch.
“We played into their hands but as soon as we settled down, we played some great football. We switched the ball, played in triangles, got in little holes and that was where we were able to get our chances from.
“It was pleasing that we got the win because that’s what we deserved tonight.”
As far as super-subs go, Matt is certainly up there. The attacker came on for Harris with two minutes remaining and struck in the dying stages with one of his first touches on the field.
It was the second game in a row that Flynn’s substitutions paid dividends to earn a result and he was full of praise for his striker’s late intervention post-match.
He affirmed: “He’s a clever footballer, played at a higher level than this and he knew to peel off around the back.
“He was hoping nobody followed him and they didn’t. He’s managed to get the winner.
“I’ve told you that I think we’ve got a stronger squad this season. The players deserve all the credit, I’m their biggest critic, but I’ll be the first to praise them as-well.”
After the game, Flynn was also able to provide an injury update ahead of welcoming Grimsby Town to Rodney Parade on Saturday.
Club captain Andrew Crofts missed the game with the toe injury that has kept him out since the Crewe game, while Robbie Willmott was again absent with a hamstring problem.
David Pipe recovered enough from the impact injury to his leg sustained on the weekend to be able to make the bench, whilst Mark O’Brien has now fully recovered from his injury and has also been on the bench for the last two games.
Flynn added on the injury list: “Matty Dolan obviously had to come off so he’s one we’ll know more about in the morning.
“Crofty’s toe is still infected but I have to say, I thought Tyreeq Bakinson was absolutely outstanding tonight in his place. For a young midfielder, he didn’t do much wrong.
“Very, very mature performance from him.”
NEXT UP | We are home to Grimbsy Town.
AFTER THAT| We face Oxford United in the Second Round of the Carabao Cup.