Mike Flynn couldn’t contain his pride towards his Newport County AFC players after they set up a Third Round Emirates FA Cup tie with former Premier League champions Leicester City following a comfortable 4-0 victory over Wrexham AFC.
After a typical derby feel around Rodney Parade in the opening exchanges, County’s cause was helped after just 12 minutes when Wrexham AFC midfielder Luke Young lunged into a challenge with Mickey Demetriou and was swiftly shown a red card.
From there, the Exiles were able to show the ruthless touch that Flynn had been craving in the past few weeks, booking their spot in the Third Round of the competition for the third time in four seasons during a clinical second-half.
The opening goal came on 49 minutes and again demonstrated just how hard assistant manager Wayne Hatswell works on coming up with various corner-kick tactics. This one saw Dan Butler float the delivery to the far post, Matty Dolan sent it back across goal to Fraser Franks, who in turn set up Padraig Amond for his 12th of the season.
Robbie Willmott’s return from injury on 52 minutes gave County the added dimension to go and kill off the game and it was the midfielder’s waltzing run into the area just before the hour that set Jamille Matt up to pass the ball home and bring up his 13th of the campaign.
Willmott was again the architect for the third goal as County really hit a purple patch at Rodney Parade, 65 minutes had elapsed and the midfielder again caused problems out wide before his fizzing cross into the area was hooked into his own net by Mark Carrington.
There was still enough time for the Exiles to bring up the most comfortable victory of the season as Dan Butler wonderfully made it four in added time. The left-back, playing at centre-back for the final nine minutes, picked the ball up, cut inside and rocketed a 25-yard shot into the bottom corner.
That was the perfect way to end a perfect night at Rodney Parade and Flynn praised the side for showing patience upon Wrexham AFC’s red card and gradually setting themselves on the way to victory.
He affirmed: “It’s always nice to beat one of your Welsh rivals and it leads us nicely into Saturday’s game against MK Dons which will be very tough.
“I’m not sure if it was a red card, I’ll be honest. I didn’t think it was at first, I thought it was a full-blooded challenge. Maybe I say that because that’s the way I used to play the game.
“I didn’t think it was a red at the time, I will go back and have a look at it.
“After that, I actually thought we were a little bit slow in our build-up, taking too many touches, overhitting crosses, overhitting passes and trying to force the issue.
“We just wanted to get in at half-time, I didn’t want to make any rash decisions and I wanted to get minutes into people’s legs – Scot Bennett, Matty Dolan.
“We had to bide our time. We knew after half-time that we wanted to get Robbie Willmott on, we gave Benno the extra ten minutes and once the first goal went in, that was the time to make the substitution.
“We knew Robbie would improve the quality in the wide areas and we knew that would cause them problems.”
It cannot be underestimated just how much Hatswell works on creating some set-piece ideas – and that’s both for and against as well.
Dan Butler is usually involved somewhere, he wasn’t too far away from scoring an emphatic volley from one corner-kick at Cheltenham Town, with County previously able to profit from all the hard-work in League Two fixtures.
Flynn stated: “The first goal came from what we said at half-time – we had to improve the quality of the crossing because even if we don’t score, there’s a chance of an own goal.
“I can’t praise the players enough, they’ve gone and made the club a lot more money which is huge for us.
“They’ve gone and done a very professional job and I’m very proud of them. They deserve the credit because it was them that went and finished the job.”
Butler capped off another superb individual display when getting his fourth of the campaign – already by far his best goal scoring season at professional level.
“It was unbelievable,” Flynn continued.
“It’s about time because I don’t think we score enough from outside the box if I’m totally honest.
“It was a great strike, you’re not going to catch one sweeter than that are you? It was an absolute rocket and he should score more because he’s got such a good left foot.
“That was the icing on the cake really.”
Another positive for the Exiles also came with the fact that no further injuries were picked up at Rodney Parade and Robbie Willmott and Matty Dolan made their welcome comebacks for County.
Mickey Demetriou was certainly put through the wars in the game, being the recipient of the red card challenge and also suffering a clash of heads in the second-half.
Flynn confirmed: “Mickey is fine, we just didn’t want to take any chances.
“I was thinking of taking one of the full-back off because they were on yellow cards – believe me, we think of everything on the side-lines. When Mickey got the knock, there was no point risking him.
“No fresh injuries. Benno was a bit leggy, so we took him off, that’s understandable because he played more than he should have on Saturday. Fair play to him for that, it shows how hard he worked in his rehabilitation.”
At recent press conferences, Flynn had been correctly refusing to talk about any potential ties with Leicester City – who reached the Quarter Finals of the Champions League in 2016/17 – until they got the job done.
Now that tie has become a reality, Flynn did divulge on the game a little bit more – but warned his players that they have a match with League Two pace setters MK Dons on Saturday and cannot afford to become distracted ahead of that game or the subsequent fixtures over Christmas.
“It’s huge for the football club,” he admitted.
“It’s another day to look forward to but as I’ve just told the boys in the dressing room, that’s in January. That’s something to look forward to then, we’re playing the best team in League Two on Saturday in MK Dons.
“That’s my full focus at the minute. Yes, let’s enjoy it now but we’re in training tomorrow and we’ll be focusing on recovery and MK Dons.
He continued: “Yeah we did [deliver a feelgood factor.]
“Like I said, the important thing for me is the finances for the football club but also, the big game against Leicester City will bring big publicity – live on TV as well.
“It also gives us a chance to get some younger fans over to Rodney Parade who will hopefully become Newport County AFC fans of the future and look, that’s what we need.
“I’m just pleased that everything has worked out for the players and the football club - it’s a game the players and the club deserve.
“It’s something to look forward to but MK Dons is a better one at the moment.”
NEXT UP | We welcome League Two pace setters MK Dons to Rodney Parade on Saturday. Get your tickets online here.
CHRISTMAS | Don’t forget – after our match vs MK Dons, you can join us at The Neon for a Newport County AFC Christmas Party. Buy tickets here.
AWAY TRIP | Our final game before Christmas sees County travel to Lincoln City on 22nd December. Ticket details can be found here.