Mike Flynn has described himself as the “proudest manager in the country” after seeing his Newport County AFC side battle resolutely to a 1-1 draw with Tottenham Hotspur in the Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round at Rodney Parade.
And County were mere minutes away from getting the victory on the night after Padraig Amond had given the Exiles what was a deserved lead after just 38 minutes.
Ben Tozer’s long throw was only half-cleared to Robbie Willmott just outside the area, who took a touch to compose himself before sending an inviting delivery into the area for Amond to head past Michel Vorm from eight yards.
The Exiles then withstood a bombardment of pressure from Tottenham as they sought to keep themselves in the competition, substitute Heung-Min Son denied with their best chance after another substitute in Dele Alli had played a clever through ball into Son’s path ten yards out.
But Harry Kane, who had been denied by a combination of Joe Day and the post in the first-half, showed his Premier League quality to rescue a replay for the away side with eight minutes remaining.
Son was again involved, deftly flicking a corner-kick towards the far post where Kane had peeled away from his marker to tap home his 30th goal of the current campaign.
No further goal could be found to separate the sides in South Wales, meaning they will both go into the hat for the fifth-round tomorrow (live on BBC1 at 7pm), and will go again at Wembley for the replay.
And Flynn was adamant that his players deserved nothing less than that lucrative tie at the National Stadium.
“They gave me their all today,” he affirmed.
“They are a fantastic group and I don’t just say it for the sake of saying it.
“They give me there all day in day out and I’m absolutely gutted for them because Tottenham scored so late.
“It was always going to be tough second-half, but they really have made me the proudest manager in the country today.”
The Exiles were more than holding their own against the stellar opposition for the majority of the game, nullifying their lethal attacking threat for a large majority of the game and looked well worth their lead at half-time.
But Flynn confirmed post-match that he had no thoughts about trying to risk sneaking a winner once Spurs found the net, preferring to tell his players to see the game out professionally and get themselves a date at Wembley.
He insisted: “I could have been a bit selfish and tried to be the hero and put a few more strikers on and gone for it.
“But I would never jeopardise the finances of the football club and I’m not selfish, so we kept it as we were, needed to get back focused and let’s be honest it was the only mistake we made all day and we got punished.”
The Exiles have prior experiences of trips to the capital, having played there on two occasions and currently have a 50%-win ratio.
Asked on whether his side could yet again defy the odds and stun the eight-time winners of the competition in their own back yard, Flynn says he has every faith in his players to reach the same level of performance for the game.
He stated: “It depends what it is like – if it’s anything like the second-half then I’m not relishing it at all.
“But look, I’ve got every bit of confidence in my players. They deserve this, gutted we didn’t win today obviously, but they deserve this.
“They have been magnificent from day one and I think you saw today that we have a lot of good players.”
The game actually represented a big milestone for Flynn as he reached half a century of games in-charge of Newport County AFC.
And he remained insistent that he couldn’t be more pleased with the effort from his players in not just the Tottenham game specifically but every game of his management to date as-well.
He said: “It’s my 50th game today and I’m very proud of everything we’ve achieved in those 50 games.
“I don’t get carried away, I keep my feet on the ground and speaking to Mauricio before and after the game was a real eye-opener for me.
“He is a class act and that is was its about.”
And on his momentous occasion, Flynn was just eight minutes away from masterminding arguably one of the biggest upsets in the history of the competition.
71 places separated the two sides before the game in the English league system and Flynn was certainly keeping it no secret that potentially causing an upset was playing on his mind throughout the game.
“Of course it was, I’d be lying if I said no,” he admitted.
“I think because now with the way the finances are, the way football is now that it would have been the best result.
“It’s not the highest result shall we say but it would have been the best result and I can’t speak highly enough of my players.
“I can’t knock the players, I’m absolutely gutted for them but you cannot give Harry Kane one minute.
“We’ve come up against a class team today, come up against a class club and come up against a class manager. He is first-class. He was so accommodating, complimentary and I haven’t got enough high words to say about Mauricio.”
It was the first time that Flynn had ever come up against Mauricio Pochettino, either in management or in their playing days, and he wanted to again put on record his appreciation at the respect shown towards him by the Argentinian and his coaching staff.
He commented: “Like I’ve said, I spoke to Mauricio before the game, had a good conversation and he said that they were treating this game like they would any other game.
“They watched us beforehand which I knew he would because he’s a class operator. I don’t think he’s arrogant, I don’t think he gets carried away, he just wants to do the best he can for his football club.
“All his staff shook my hand after the game and said congratulations and I think they all knew what it meant to this football club as-well.
“And yeah Mauricio Pochettino showing Mike Flynn respect is always welcome.”
A biggest home crowd at a County game in 35 years was in attendance at Rodney Parade, the final figure coming in at 9,836 including an away support of 1,649.
And Flynn hopes that the upturn in fortunes for the club will regain what he feels has been a lost generation of County fans when the club went out of business in 1989.
He added: “I’ve said it before that this draw and this cup run has helped us get a new generation of fans.
“When we went out of business we lost that generation of fans. People like myself and a little younger than me that we lost to Liverpool, Man Utd, Spurs, Leeds and the other big clubs.
“But that buzz, that crowd today, you have to be honest and say it was amazing.
“It was an unbelievable atmosphere and the best I’ve ever experienced at Rodney Parade.
“Let’s hope it continues because even if we get 10% of these people today then it’s an extra 1000 fans on our gate.”
While every player gave their all at Rodney Parade – heart, vigour and belief all on display in abundance, captain Joss Labadie did come in for some individual praise post-match.
“He was outstanding,” Flynn affirmed.
“He’s a little disappointed because he was marking Kane, he’s been out for a couple of weeks, but he was a different level today.
“That first-half, I have to be honest and say that he looked like a Premier League player.”
Replay details to be released this evening.