Mike Flynn has admitted that he feels it was “two points dropped” by his Newport County AFC side following the thrilling 3-3 draw with Forest Green Rovers at Rodney Parade.
Five of the goals came in what can only be described as a pulsating first-half of football in South Wales, with the Exiles taking a slender lead back with them to the dressing rooms following a superb display from Paul Hayes.
It was in-fact the visitors who struck first during the game after just six minutes, Rovers defender Haydn Hollis providing a testing delivery that Dan Butler could do nothing about but inadvertently turn into his own net.
Butler was certainly intent on making amends for that early error and played a pivotal role in County turning the game on its head within 11 minutes of the opener.
The left-back struck a perfect half-volley from 25 yards which appeared to take a slight deflection off Hayes, before heading back across the area from a corner on 17 minutes for Hayes to have the simplest of tasks to head County into the lead from all of two yards.
Forest Green found their way back into the contest exactly on the half-hour mark, captain for the day Gavin Gunning firing through a host of bodies after a well-executed corner tactic from the visitors.
But Hayes clearly wanted the headlines all to himself after an exciting opening 45 minutes and got another goal on his first County start with five minutes of the half still left to play.
This one was another reactive finish, coolly dispatching the rebound from four yards after away goalkeeper Bradley Collins had made a smart save to deny Mark O’Brien’s initial thunderous volley.
But the Exiles couldn’t hold on for their first win since 19th January as Rovers substitute Lee Collins struck in off the post with six minutes remaining to ensure the points were shared at Rodney Parade.
Both teams certainly made it an exciting contest by playing with attacking intent throughout the game, although Flynn feels his side edged proceedings in terms of chances created.
“I see it as two points dropped,” he stated.
“We conceded three poor goals and we missed too many chances at 2-2 and 3-2.
“We should have definitely been 5-2 up at that point and out of sight. That’s what it came down to really, both boxes.
“We showed the character in getting back in-front and we should have killed the game off. Simple as that really.”
You certainly couldn’t have written the script any better for Hayes on his first start for the Exiles, scoring his first goals since 28th January 2017 when he scored two for Wycombe Wanderers against Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane.
And Flynn was keen to praise the striker post-match.
He said: “I thought [Paul Hayes] was absolutely outstanding tonight. It shows why he has had such a long career and he can now teach a lot of the younger players how to play the game properly.
“He was exceptional tonight.”
County's first goal of the night ended a barren run for the Exiles of going 517 minutes of football without a goal.
And while Flynn was pleased to see the Exiles get back to scoring form, he was slightly disappointed that the side couldn’t make it three clean sheets on the bounce after resilient displays against Notts County and Port Vale.
He commented: “I am frustrated but they worked and worked and worked. Even at the end after they equalised, we almost went down the other end and scored again with Podge’s effort and Josh Sheehan’s little run through.
“There was a time where we were probably too deep and that’s where the third goal came from.
“Trust me, we work on not becoming too deep. I’ve just said in there that it probably didn’t help with Mark O’Brien going off because he was definitely one who was pushing everybody up.
“You could hear him in the first-half and I actually said to Hats that Mark was getting everybody up. Maybe we lost that voice, but it’s still no excuse for me really.”
Forest Green brought in 10 new additions during the January transfer window as manager Mark Cooper looks to prolong Rovers’ stay in League 2 past just one season.
That meant only three players who were named in the starting side at Rodney Parade played in the previous meeting between the two sides, a game County won 4-0 at the New Lawn on 14th October.
And Flynn wanted to put on record his praise to Cooper for the job he has done in revolutionising the recent fortunes of the club.
He said: “We knew that they [Forest Green] would have some good possession at times because they are a very good team.
“They strengthened well in January and have improved a lot. They have some exciting midfielders, arguably the best strike force in the league with Reuben Reid and Christian Doidge.
“And we knew they had that about them. But we had enough chances to win two football matches today.”
The point ensured that County leapfrogged Cambridge United in the League 2 table and up to 13th position, while closing the gap on the play-offs to just eight points.
A place in the top-seven remains a target for Flynn with eleven matches still left to play, seven of which are at Rodney Parade, although he does feel there isn’t too much more margin for error should the Exiles want to continue their season past May 6th.
“We’ll keep going,” he continued.
“I’ve told you it’s game by game. I do feel it was two points dropped today and we can’t afford to do that too many more times.
“We’ll keep going and give it a good go. Tough game on Saturday against Yeovil who are fighting to stay in the league.
“That’s what you saw from Forest Green tonight, they made it difficult for us.”
The Exiles will be looking to strengthen that charge towards the play-offs when they go to Yeovil Town in just three days’ time.
Joss Labadie will be back in contention after the completion of his two-match suspension, although Scot Bennett will again miss out with a hamstring injury.
And Flynn confirmed that he may be missing other members of his squad for the game at Huish Park, with all of his substitutions against Forest Green coming through injury.
“It didn’t help us tonight that we had to make enforced substitutions,” he added.
“Mark O’Brien, Robbie Willmott and Paul Hayes [all had to come off] and believe me, I would have kept all three of them on the football pitch today.”
Flynn was unable to provide a definitive prognosis on the injuries immediately after the game, although did say he didn’t foresee any complications with the players withdrawn during the contest.
He commented: “Not yet. I always look at it the next morning or maybe 48 hours later.
“What feels like a hamstring tear is probably cramp or a little bit of muscle soreness.
“We’ll have to wait and see but it’s about getting ready for Saturday now.”
Paul Hayes certainly made the most of his chance in the County starting-line up when filling the void left by Frank Nouble.
Interestingly, it was the first time in League 2 this season that Nouble hadn’t been involved in some capacity, with Flynn confirming his striker is currently carrying his own injury problem.
“He’s got a bit of a stiff groin,” he confirmed.
“I maybe could have put him on the bench, but his partner is expecting a child and I thought it was for the best that he was on hand for his partner.
“I don’t know if he will be involved on Saturday. Something else I have to consider is that he’s a yellow card away from a two-match suspension and I think that may finish after Saturday.
“I’ve got to take that one on the chin and Frank might miss Saturday for the sake of missing one to get away with two if you know what I mean.”