Mike Flynn says he thought his Newport County AFC side were “superb” in the first-half of the 2-1 victory over Crawley Town that saw the Exiles continue their perfect start to 2018.
After a dominant first half display that saw County twice hit the crossbar early-on through Padraig Amond and Robbie Willmott, the Exiles finally breached the Crawley resistance five minutes before the interval.
Amond was the man to score the opener at Rodney Parade, powerfully driving a header into the far corner from ten yards after Ben White had provided the inch-perfect cross for the Irishman.
And that lead swiftly became two just four minutes later as Mickey Demetriou calmly dispatched County’s first penalty of the season into the bottom left corner despite the best efforts of Crawley goalkeeper Glenn Morris.
But the visitors were insistent on making of a game of it after their somewhat shaky opening, and found a goal just three minutes after the break.
Crawley substitute Thomas Verheydt came out the better of an aerial duel with Exiles goalkeeper Joe Day, before setting up his captain Jimmy Smith to fire home from 15 yards via a slight deflection from Mickey Demetriou.
The Red Devils then really started to up the ascendency as they looked to continue their recent run of good form, Day having to make a smart save to deny Arjan Tajbakhsh with 13 minutes remaining.
But the Exiles held on to secure a fourth successive 2-1 win, taking them temporarily to 5th in the table with a hard-fought victory.
And Flynn was ecstatic to see his side make the most of their chances when in possession.
“It was a game of two-halves,” he commented.
“I thought we were absolutely superb in the first-half and played them off the park.
“Second-half to their credit, they caused us a few problems, changed it round a little bit and they were the better team second-half without really threatening.
“I know they had a goal disallowed but it was disallowed for a reason and that was because he was offside.”
The lethal combination of White and Amond were at it again for the first goal on the night, replicating the goal at Cheltenham last month with an inch-perfect cross and subsequent strike.
And Flynn was full of praise for both the finish and the pass post-match.
“It was superb,” he affirmed.
“It was excellent and I’m absolutely buzzing because the pass was out of this world.
“I said the same when he did it with his right-foot in the goal at Cheltenham, and he’s just gone and done exactly the same pass with his left-foot.
“That’s the quality the young lad has and again another outstanding header from Podge.
“We hit the bar twice as-well, created other numerous chances and listen, we should have been out of sight first-half and that’s a little bit frustrating because once we made the error for their goal, it was a little bit tense if I’m honest.”
Demetriou’s penalty was his fourth goal against the Red Devils in just three matches, having netted the winner at Rodney Parade last season in-addition to the two in the reverse fixture earlier this campaign.
Since it took until the 19th January to receive one, question marks had always surrounded who was going to be the one to step up for the spot-kick.
And Flynn says it has always been his centre-half’s responsibility to take the penalties, especially after keeping his composure to score his last one, that coming in the 2-1 victory over Notts County last season to complete the ‘Great Escape.’
“Always, he’s the penalty taker,” he confirmed.
“Never in doubt, he’s the penalty taker until he has a severe lack of confidence taking them.
“I always fancy him to score.”
Crawley were insistent on making a game of it as they looked to continue their own perfect start to the year, and Flynn thought that goal early in the second-half could have been avoided.
“I thought it was a poor goal,” he admitted.
“I thought Joe made a mistake, I don’t blame him because he’s kept us in the game loads of times, like he did at the end with the save.
“He was outstanding. He didn’t let his head drop and it’s just one of those things.
“Usually when a goalkeeper makes a mistake, they get punished. If an outfield player does it, they usually get away with it.
“He’s been superb with me.”
The victory saw the Exiles move into the play-off positions for the first time since 21st October, although they may slip back out of the top seven following the conclusion of this afternoon’s results.
But Flynn feels it is a just reward for his players to be in and amongst the promotion contenders.
“It’s outstanding,” he stated.
“This is the credit that the players deserve. We had two players out who had been regulars this season, so it was a big miss.
“Ben Tozer came in and I thought he was excellent and Josh Sheehan came in and got nearly 70 minutes under his belt and first-half, he was the old Josh Sheehan.
“Okay, a couple of loose touches but he was finding space, feeding Frank and Robbie and it was a joy to have him back.”
The win sees County maintain their 100% record in 2018 and Flynn expects his team to just keep pushing on from now until the end of the season.
“We’ve hit a good run of form now,” he confirmed.
“I said we would have a blip, we might have another blip, but I always said that we would bounce back and keep going.
“There’s 18 games left and it’s getting interesting now isn’t it?”
Another positive on the night saw Paul Hayes receive his first league minutes in a County shirt.
The striker had made a late cameo in the Leeds game earlier this month for his debut following the completion of his transfer certificate at the beginning of January.
And Flynn feels the 34-year old will be able to provide something different to the County squad.
“Paul Hayes was absolutely superb when he came on,” he affirmed.
“I know it was only a small amount of minutes but his game management and his experience will be vital for us.
“He changed it when he came on, the onslaught was on [from Crawley] but he was taking the ball higher up the pitch, getting hold of it and keeping them pinned back.
“That’s what I brought him here for and I’m delighted with what he did.”
A record league crowd of the season was at Rodney Parade to witness the game, a total of 5,741 (89 away) spectators at the match.
And Flynn hopes that the positive fortunes at the club of late will see the side achieve crowds of that number on a more consistent basis.
He continued: “That’s what we want – we want to keep the crowds going up and gradually rising.
“It’s a credit to them, I know the reasons why they are here tonight but fair play to them, they turned up and wanted to be a part of a big occasion.
“Hopefully, it won’t be the only one this season.”
The Exiles don’t have too long to rest and recover ahead of their next game, however, as Morecambe make the long trip to South Wales on Tuesday night.
County were missing both Joss Labadie and Matty Dolan for last night’s game and Flynn confirmed that he wasn’t sure if the midfield duo would be ready for the visit of the Shrimpers.
“I’m not sure,” he said.
“I really don’t know to be honest. They went off yesterday in training, done the press Thursday and everybody was fit, but they both had stiff hamstrings yesterday.
“It’s a difficult one because you don’t want to risk them and lose them long term, but at the same time you want your best players on the pitch.
“It’s a tough one and we’ll have to see how they are Monday morning.”
He continued: “They weren’t fit tonight. There was no chance I was going to risk them tonight, they were not fit.
“Like I’ve said, I’ll never put the players health at risk so look, they were a big miss, but I thought the two boys who came in today did a very good job in their replacement.”
The Shrimpers have posed numerous threats to the Exiles in recent years, with County only amassing one point from 12 available from the home games against Morecambe in League 2.
And Flynn remained insistent that the game cannot be viewed simply as a practise for the visit of Tottenham Hotspur next week in the Emirates FA Cup.
He stated: “We’ve got a Tuesday night game first. That’s one out of the way now this week so to speak but my biggest concern now is against Morecambe.
“Getting three points against Morecambe who are a group of fighters, good manager, good assistant manager, good players, down the bottom now but they always end up going on runs and they are a bit of a bogey team for us.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Jim Bentley and I won’t take them lightly.”