Mike Flynn has described County’s victory over Championship outfit Leeds United as the best performance of his reign so far after seeing his side book their place in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round for the first time in 39 years with a 2-1 victory at Rodney Parade.
It was the visitors who in-fact took a lead with them back to the dressing rooms at half-time, captain for the day Gaetano Berardi outfoxing Joe Day with a strike of sheer power and pace from 30 yards that went through a host of bodies and into the bottom left corner.
But the Exiles fought back resiliently to bridge the gap of the 53-place difference in the English league pyramid, grabbing an equaliser with 13 minutes left to play.
Some intricate passing from the Exiles in the middle eventually ended up with Frank Nouble out-wide, who rifled a cross along the floor into the danger area which centre-half Conor Shaughnessy could do nothing other than divert into his own goal.
That set up a potential grandstand finish in South Wales and the Exiles ensured they would be the side in tomorrow night’s fourth round draw with a goal of a similar vein to the dramatic end to last season.
As the indication of three additional minutes went up at the end of the game, Matty Dolan’s corner was inch perfect for substitute Shawn McCoulsky to head home with a towering leap, as the Bristol City loanee scored arguably his most important goal for the club to date with his 11th of the season.
Leeds substitute Samu Saiz was then immediately sent off for what looked like persistent complaining to referee Mike Dean. And that allowed the Exiles to see out the game quite comfortably against the ten-men, securing another piece of County folklore by advancing to the fourth round for the first time since 1979.
And Flynn felt that County got their just rewards for a solid performance at Rodney Parade.
“Yeah I thought we deserved that,” he affirmed.
“I thought we played well first-half as-well, had a few half chances and had one cleared off the line.
“Listen, I thought we were outstanding throughout. We switched the ball well, we worked a lot of 2v1 situations and got a lot of crosses into the box.”
Flynn was even drawn as far to say that it was County’s best performance of his managerial career to date.
He stated: “I think so because of the nature of it and being 1-0 down. We were excellent today and we’ve beaten a good Leeds team.
“I’m over the moon and I’m absolutely delighted.”
Ahead of the game, Leeds United manager Thomas Christiansen elected to rotate his squad and make nine changes to the side that started the Whites last Championship game.
But in spite of the wholesale changes made by the away side at Rodney Parade, Flynn remained adamant that he had every belief in his players regardless of the team selected by Christiansen.
“I always thought we had a chance anyway,” he added.
“They are still Championship players and still play for a massive club like Leeds United.
“It was always going to be tough and you could see that with the two boys they brought on, Cooper and Saiz, that is the quality that they have got.
“But we’ve still got to beat them. Yes I was more confident but I was confident anyway because of the nature of them coming down here, not their home ground, and I knew we could make it difficult for them.
“I was pleased to see the changes, but they are still Championship players and we still had to go out and beat them.”
The whole squad continue to break records under Flynn’s guidance, adding themselves to a list that includes Histon and Sutton United as lower league opposition to knock Leeds United out of the Emirates FA Cup.
And Flynn reinstated his belief post-match that he knew his squad would not crumble under the pressure of a massive home tie.
He confirmed: “I knew we would put a performance in because they have never let me down.
“It’s only a small amount of time that they have let their selves down, but they are a great group and I’m very proud of them.
“When Leeds scored, I turned around to Wayne and Lennie and said that I knew we weren’t going to do it the easy way, so we might as well make it difficult for ourselves and make it a grandstand at the end instead.
“They deserve all the credit for today.”
And Flynn also confirmed post-match that he wouldn’t have had it any other way than a dramatic late winner.
“It’s what I’ve always wanted to do,” he affirmed.
“I didn’t want anything given to me on a plate and that’s why I’ve worked hard with my coaching badges and done other courses in my degree and things like that.
“I want to be the best I can, and I’ve got a great group of players and staff along with me.”
McCoulsky’s match-winner was the fifth time already this season that he has come off the substitutes bench to score in a County shirt.
It is also the third time he has scored against higher-league opposition, following his two against Southend United in the Carabao Cup and in the first round of this competition against Walsall.
And Flynn says it was written in the stars for McCoulsky to score again when coming off the bench.
“I told him that he would go on and score,” he continued.
“You saw his goal, it was full of desire and hunger and he has scored an absolute superb header.
“He really wanted it, you could see how high he leaped that it was outstanding.
“I’ve watched it again and I’m made up for him.”
The Exiles were probably unlucky not to score in the first-half as-well.
Padraig Amond had an attempt cleared off the goal line by Man Utd loanee Cameron Borthwick-Jackson, while Frank Nouble and Joss Labadie both forced smart saves from away goalkeeper Andy Lonergan.
It was the first-time the Exiles had gone into half-time behind in either the Emirates FA Cup or Carabao Cup so far this season, and Flynn confirmed that he just told his players to keep doing what they had been doing ready for the second-half.
“I just kept them calm,” he said.
“I told them how well they had done and that they didn’t have to go and win it in the first ten or fifteen minutes of the second half.
“We were going to have other chances, we were going to score, so don’t go and shoot yourself in the foot before we get a chance to get back into it.”
Robbie Willmott was named man-of-the-match at Rodney Parade by the official match sponsors, after a tireless display on the right-hand side of the County front three.
And Flynn thought Willmott proved why he fought so hard to bring the midfielder back to the club over the summer.
“Robbie is outstanding,” he added.
“That’s why I brought him to the football club but every one of them gave their all today.
“Yes we have bad games but our boys today were outstanding, every single one of them. Robbie was one of them that’s for sure.
“He really was superb. The amount of times he got at their full-backs, the amount of crosses he put in and the runs he made back really was brilliant.”
Flynn chose to stick to the same team that secured a 2-1 victory over Exeter City on Monday.
That meant new signings Josh Sheehan and Tyler Reid were named on the bench, as was Paul Hayes who finally had his transfer certificate come through on Monday.
Speaking more specifically on the return of Sheehan, Flynn couldn’t hide his relief at getting the deal over the line.
“He’s ready otherwise he wouldn’t have been on the bench,” he confirmed.
“I felt a little bit sorry for Tom Owen-Evans, but I thought we was going to need a goal today and I think Josh has got that little bit more edge about him in getting a goal.
“He’s a talented footballer and I’m very pleased to have him here. All the hard work chairman Gavin Foxall did behind the scenes with myself has paid off and I’m over the moon with it.”
Asked on what County fans could expect from Reid during his loan spell from Swansea City, Flynn confirmed the defender will provide a lot of positive attributes for the side.
“Tyler will bring energy, strength and an attacking threat,” he continued.
“But he will have to work hard to get into the team because I thought David Pipe had another solid game today.”
Advancing in the Emirates FA Cup brings about the obvious question of who Flynn would like to draw in the next round, which is live tomorrow night on BBC2 from 7pm.
And Flynn confirmed post-match that he wants whatever tie will bring the most finances into the club, as he still seeks to build a new training ground for the Exiles.
He admitted: “I’ve just said then that I would love Liverpool at Anfield being a Liverpool fan.
“But whatever makes the club the most money really, so I hope we get a bit of luck in the draw now and get one of the big boys away. It would be absolutely huge for this football club and we need it.
“Shocks can happen in this competition, I thought Coventry was a great result yesterday and I’m sure there will be plenty of others today and tomorrow.”
FOURTH ROUND DRAW| The draw takes place tomorrow (8/1/18) at 7pm and will be shown live on BBC One Wales and BT Sports. We will be ball 9.
NEXT UP| It's a trip to Grimsby for the Exiles.
NEXT UP AT HOME| We are inviting Crawley Town to Rodney Parade on the 19th January. Check out the website tomorrow to find out how you could be attending that match for just £10.