Mike Flynn heaped praise on his entire Newport County AFC squad after seeing them start 2018 with three points after a commanding 2-1 home success over Exeter City.
Despite the blustery conditions seemingly working against the Exiles in the first-half, the side did take a lead into half-time through Padraig Amond’s eighth league goal of the campaign.
It came as early as the sixth minute and was the product of some intricate County passing. David Pipe’s long ball was chested on superbly by Frank Nouble into the path of Robbie Willmott, who floated a ball into the area which Amond sent looping over away goalkeeper Christy Pym with a powerful header from eight yards.
But the away side grew into the game the more it progressed, and were rewarded for a lively start to the second-half as Jayden Stockley netted the equaliser just eight minutes after the restart.
Away captain Jake Taylor crossed an inviting delivery into the area, which the striker got his head to, sending a similar attempt to that of Amond’s opener past Joe Day.
That saw the game really begin to open up at Rodney Parade, with Willmott coming close for County before the hour-mark and Lloyd James misfiring a free header at the other end.
The Exiles would get their match-winner shortly after, however, as Willmott fired an unstoppable shot past Pym with 25 minutes remaining.
Amond and Dan Butler skilfully combined out-wide, before the left-back played a perfectly weighted ball into Willmott’s path. That allowed him to take a touch before firing from 25 yards into the bottom-right corner.
From there until the final whistle, Exeter lay siege on the County goal as they tried to salvage a point from their trip to South Wales.
But Joe Day and the County defence were equal to every Grecian attack, making a host of blocks and saves, the best of which came deep into the added extras.
In the sixth minute of the eight added on at the end of the game, Taylor looked like he may finally breach Day in the County goal with his fifth shot of the match, only to see the goalkeeper jump back across goal to produce a stunning finger-tip save to keep it out.
That meant the points were preserved at Rodney Parade as County remained in 11th position in the League 2 table, although narrowed the gap on the play-off places to three points with their first home league win in over three months.
And Flynn was delighted to see his players adapt so well to the adverse conditions in South Wales.
“I thought we were outstanding first-half against the wind,” he affirmed.
“We looked like the team who were in the play-off final last year [as opposed to Exeter] if any, but again we came out very sloppy and conceded a goal that we showed them over and over would happen.
“They are the things we have to learn from because I thought we were the better team.
“But I’ve just told them now that they either want to give me a heart attack or they get bored because they do have that lapse of concentration.
“But their work-effort, the way they pressed Exeter and the chances we created, I really do think the boys were superb today.”
The victory was County’s first over the Grecians in South Wales since a 1-0 League Cup success on 2nd September 1986.
It also ensured County closed the gap on Exeter, who now sit in the final play-off spot, to just the three points.
And Flynn was delighted to narrow the gap on the top-seven ahead of a two-week break from league action.
“It’s huge,” he stated.
“I thought we were the better team down at Exeter as-well.
“We didn’t win but you don’t always get what you deserve in football. The way those players worked today, the effort they put in, means it is a good point away at Cheltenham now because we’ve got the home win.”
The victory at Rodney Parade was the first home league victory for the Exiles since 7th October when Yeovil Town were defeated 2-0.
But if there were any negatives from the performance for Flynn, it is that he would like the squad to eradicate the lacklustre start to the second-half ready for future matches.
He commented: “The first ten minutes of the second-half we were slicing balls, we were too deep, and you would think that they had the wind.
“It actually worked against Exeter first-half as-well, so I was fearing the worst. But the boys do what they always do, they knuckle down, make hard work of it mind but they usually come out on top.”
Willmott’s match-winning goal was a just reward for his man-of-the-match award as voted for by the fans poll on Twitter, as the midfielder also set up Amond’s opener in the first-half.
The goal was the first of the season for Willmott, meaning it is his first goal for the club since 8th October 2014 having re-joined this summer.
And Flynn couldn’t contain his pride at the performance from his midfielder post-match.
“I thought Robbie Willmott was excellent today,” he added.
“He’s scored one, set-up another, played in a couple of positions. His work rate was unbelievable and he’s a clever footballer.
“He’s got unbelievable technique and it was a great strike.
“He took it well and the most important thing when shooting from distance is that you hit the target.
“If you don’t hit the target then you won’t score, it’s as simple as that. You always have the chance of a goalkeeping error or it going in the top corner.
“You have to hit the target and thankfully he did that today.”
Willmott’s goal celebration, however, did leave a lot to be desired at Rodney Parade.
But Flynn confirmed post-match that he expected nothing different from the player.
“He’s a weird kid,” he confirmed.
“I love him to bits as I do all of the players, but he is odd. He’s an odd character and he’ll tell you that himself.
“He likes being on his own and it’s brilliant because he went and celebrated on his own.”
After four games in the space of nine days, the team now have six days to rest and recover ahead of the Emirates FA Cup Third Round clash with Leeds United.
And Flynn confirmed post-match that the substitution of Matty Dolan was for tactical reasons as opposed to another injury.
“Matty’s been ill,” he said.
“We’ve had a sickness bug going through and he’s done really well to play so many games.
“But with Holmes coming on, we had to be careful that he didn’t get a run and we had to put Tom Owen-Evans on so his legs were protected a little bit more because Holmes is a dangerous player.”