Mike Flynn says his Newport County AFC squad are mentally prepared for a return to League 2 action against Forest Green Rovers this weekend following their Emirates FA Cup exploits at Wembley on Wednesday.
The defeat to Tottenham Hotspur now means it is five without a win for Flynn and his squad, after previously starting 2018 with a 100% record following victories in the first four games of the year.
And Flynn was adamant that his squad have to quickly alter their thoughts immediately back to league action in order to get anything from the encounter with Rovers on Saturday.
“Fully focused on Forest Green on Saturday now,” he affirmed.
“It was a tremendous cup run, brilliant for the club, brilliant for the fans, staff and players. But it’s gone now.
“We’ve got 15 games left now to try and get as many points as we can.”
The Green Devils will head to Rodney Parade with one of the worst away records in League 2.
No team in the division has amassed less points away from home than Rovers, who have picked up just nine points from the 45 available on the road so far this season.
But they do have one of the top strikers in the league amongst their ranks, with Newport-born striker Cristian Doidge currently the joint-third top scorer in League 2.
And Flynn says he is wary of the threat that the striker will pose at Rodney Parade.
“Doidge is their top scorer and is the dangerman,” he stated.
“But to be honest, I’m more worried about us this weekend.
“I know that if we do it right and we turn it on then we should have enough to win the football match.
“But if we don’t then it could be a tough game.
“They have a good manager, Mark has been around a long time, Scott the assistant is a top guy as-well.
“And they have a big squad. They have got some good players there, so we’ve got to be at it.
“We can’t afford any feeling sorry for yourself, any FA Cup hangover, which I don’t think we will get anyway.”
The game in South Wales starts a significant run of home fixtures for the Exiles until the end of the season.
Out of the 15 league games remaining, nine of them are at Rodney Parade, that run created by playing the first five games in all competitions on the road due to essential works being carried out at the stadium.
And Flynn wants his squad to capitalise on that and mount a push for the play-offs by once again making Rodney Parade into a fortress.
“It’s a big swing,” he admitted.
“Get another away game out of the way Tuesday as-well so we’re getting down to the final few away games now.
“We’ve got to make the Rodney Parade advantage count.”
The play-offs or even an automatic promotion place is now the target for Flynn after the side’s elimination from the Emirates FA Cup on Wednesday night.
And Flynn believes what the club did last season will mentally help them this time around.
He added: “It stands us in good stead that we know that we can claw back a points deficit.
“We were eleven points adrift last season of safety and we caught that up.
“So definitely [the play-offs are a target.] We’ll give it a good go and what will be will be.
“Saturday is a massive game against a Forest Green team who have strengthened.”
He continued: “I’ll be honest with you – I’m putting more pressure on myself now than I did last season.
“Last season was a nothing really – if you asked 100 people if we could survive then 100 people would have said no chance.
“Now can we drag back five points? If you ask 100 people then you might get 30 who say yes now.
“I’ll put more pressure on myself and I’ll make sure that the boys know how important it is.
“They know what it takes. We had a good chat Wednesday and like I said, we’ve experienced Wembley now so if you want to come back here then it’s in your hands.
“If they go and produce the same levels as in the two Tottenham games then they’ll win the majority of League 2 games.
“I’ve set the gauntlet down now and it’s up to them to rise to it.”
That target of reaching Wembley again this season has now been set to the players by Flynn.
But he did admit that he would be more than happy to settle for not going to Wembley again if the club were to secure a top-three finish in the League 2 table.
“I’ve set that challenge yes,” he affirmed.
“But don’t get me wrong, I don’t care if we don’t get to Wembley and finish 3rd.
“I’d much rather finish 3rd because we’d have an extra month off.
“If we have to do it the hard way then that’s the challenge. I’d rather go to Wembley than finish 8th but I’d rather finish 3rd and not go to Wembley.”
A potential promotion to League 1 would create some extra logistical challenges for Newport County AFC as a whole.
But Flynn feels the prolonged cup run will help the club ease into that transition in the eventuality of reaching the third division.
He said: “I think they definitely are [prepared] with the extra money now in the club.
“It would help. Like I said, there would be a little more running costs, more wages but we would probably generate more sponsorship.
“It works in roundabouts – the board are ready, we’ve just got to make sure we are ready as a whole.
“The community department is going from strength to strength, so it could be good.”
That promotion bid will start on Saturday against Forest Green.
Ben White was a surprise inclusion at Wembley after it looked like he would initially miss the game through a thigh strain.
And while Flynn also admitted that he was surprised himself to see his centre-back passed fit to start, he confirmed that he came through the game unscathed and is ready for Saturday.
He continued: “I spoke to Ben just before we did the press on Tuesday and the scan result had come back and he was out.
“It was a thigh strain, nothing serious, but we believed he was out.
“He went back to Brighton, they rescanned him and didn’t find anything.
“It was an old injury or maybe a bit of scar tissue so they gave him a fitness test. He passed it with flying colours so that was that.
“I got a phone call around about 6pm on Tuesday so I had to have a go at him because he made me out to be the biggest liar in football.
“He stitched me right up! He was fit, we got Brighton’s blessing, our doctor was fine with it, so it was a welcome boost.
“With his loyalty and his performances so far this season, he deserved to walk out at Wembley.”
That means Flynn will have a full squad to choose from for the visit of the Green Devils to Rodney Parade.
His substitutions at Wembley were made through precautionary measures, but it appears that taking that extra caution during the game has worked out for the Exiles.
Flynn commented: “I think everybody is ok, they all seemed quite fresh today.
“They will do their second day recovery today as usual and we’ll have to pick a team that we think will win tomorrow.
“Pipey is a little bit stiff so came off because his hamstring had tightened up.
“We didn’t want to risk that one – Ben White was cramping so he came off as-well.
“And Ben Tozer has played a lot of minutes and it was tough in there. I wanted Matty Dolan to get some minutes to try and look a bit more likely going forward as-well.”
That energy-sapping performance at Wembley may provoke Flynn into making some changes for the match.
He confirmed: “It’s something that we have spoken about already this morning.
“We’ll see – we’ll go with what we think is right tomorrow.
“The thing now is that the players have to be doing it day in day out on the training pitch to get in the team.
“It’s all good to say so and so needs a rest but if the others aren’t doing as-well as them in training then they won’t be getting in.
“It’s down to them to keep their shirt now. Once they cross that white line, they have to take some responsibility and show that they are good players.”
The performance at Wembley certainly gained the Exiles some new fans, none more so than Tottenham manager Mauricio Pochettino.
And Flynn wanted to again put on record his gratitude towards the Argentinian for how he treated the team over the two games.
“It was lovely what Mauricio said about us,” he stated.
“I can’t speak highly enough about him, he’s somebody that has got my utmost respect now in the game.
“If people like that are saying it, then it can be used as a catalyst for the boys as-well. It’s not every day that you get the Tottenham manger complimenting you and geeing you on.”
Sandwiched between those two ties with the Premier League outfit in the Emirates FA Cup came the two away trips to Lincoln City and Colchester United.
The Exiles suffered defeats on both occasions to fall slightly further aback from the play-off positions, but Flynn says he was still pleased with the level of performance from his players despite the score.
“Not many people have gone to Lincoln and won,” he said.
“And at Colchester, I thought we were in the game until they scored. Maybe that knocked the wind out of the sails so to speak, but the players did keep on working.
“They were putting a shift in, you could maybe just see that one or two were thinking about Wednesday.”
Despite those two defeats, the Exiles have still amassed double the amount of points at this stage of the season compared to the last campaign.
And Flynn feels it can’t be taken lightly as to how much the side have improved over the past 11 months.
“It’s a fantastic improvement,” he affirmed.
“Let’s not play it down or anything, that’s a massive improvement on previous years and like I said, if we can get in those play-offs then it will be one hell of a turnaround.
“But it’s only now. If we go and whimper off like a damp squid, then it’ll mean nothing.
“That’s not what I’m about, I want to keep enhancing my reputation, my staff’s reputation and the reputation of the players by going on a run now and getting as many points as we can.”
The last three games have all come on the road and have seen some magnificent away supports for the Exiles.
76 supporters travelled to Sincil Bank for a Tuesday night game, while 184 were present for the encounter with Colchester.
That was then followed by an amazing 7,200 away supporters at Wembley on Wednesday, a figure reported to be the highest ever away attendance for a Tottenham Hotspur match.
And Flynn hopes those figures will have a direct impact on the home attendances moving forward.
“They were fantastic I’ve got to be honest,” he admitted.
“They have gained some plaudits and rightly so. Getting that many fans down on a Wednesday evening, kids who have school the next morning, it was an amazing atmosphere.
“They were by far the loudest and kept the players going right to the end. I can’t thank them enough and I would love to see them all over there on Saturday.”
NEXT UP| We are back on the road on Tuesday 13th as we head to Mansfield Town. Tickets are available on the day.
NEXT UP AT HOME| We face Notts County at home on 17th February. Get tickets here.