Mike Flynn believes his Newport County AFC side could feel aggrieved at not taking all three points in the 1-1 draw with Luton Town at Rodney Parade.
The Exiles had the lead within the opening two minutes of the contest as Josh Sheehan scored for the second successive game following his opener at Yeovil Town last weekend.
It was the product of some dazzling footwork from Aaron Collins, who skipped past four challenges with ease before seeing his shot saved by Hatters goalkeeper Marek Stech, although the shot stopper could only parry the attempt into Sheehan’s path eight yards out to net the opener.
Exiles goalkeeper Joe Day made a smart save to deny Luton talisman Danny Hylton shortly after as the away side looked for an immediate response, but they wouldn’t be behind for too much longer as they found their equaliser on 23 minutes.
The corner-kicks of Alan Sheehan had been providing problems in the County box throughout the game, Dan Potts rising highest from this one to power a header into the top corner from around 14 yards.
Day had to make another clever stop with his leg to thwart James Collins mere moments after the equaliser, who also hit the crossbar ten minutes later, that chance the last of any note before half-time.
Mickey Demetriou headed narrowly over the crossbar in what was the best chance of the second-half, with both teams having to settle for a point after a battling performance.
That draw ensured County maintained their unbeaten start to 2018 at Rodney Parade, extending their unbeaten run home and away in League 2 to five matches in the process, although Flynn felt his side deserved more against the Hatters.
“I thought we were the better team,” he affirmed.
“Especially second-half we were the better team and we should have won the football match. It was a very good start, lively opener, disappointed with the goal we conceded because the boy has had a free header.
“And then apart from James Collins hitting the crossbar, there wasn’t really that much more that they created.
“They are the top boys in this league, got the biggest budget, and my boys have been outstanding against them today.”
The Exiles also hit the post at Rodney Parade – Robbie Willmott seeing a header against his former employers cannon back into the danger area after yet more clever work from Aaron Collins.
Sheehan also had another attempt ruled out for offside in the second-half, with Flynn encouraged by the positive play from County throughout the entirety of the game.
He said: “I am really pleased because I thought we played some brilliant football today. Especially the goal that was disallowed because the timing of the run would have made it an unbelievable goal.
“But you know, we’ve played a solid Luton team, a good Luton team and we were the better side. So I think we’ve done ourselves very well today.”
Aaron Collins certainly played his part on his first start for the club since joining on loan from Championship leaders Wolverhampton Wanderers, causing a whole host of problems to Jack Stacey at right-back and the rest of the Luton defence.
And Flynn was delighted with the performance of his striker post-match, with that start his first in 789 days for the Exiles after his last came in the Emirates FA Cup clash with Blackburn Rovers on 18th January 2016.
“He did make an impact,” he continued.
“I’ll be honest, I’ve spoken to Aaron and his levels weren’t good enough at the start. I didn’t know what Aaron Collins I was going to get.
“I had a good chat with him to get his confidence back up and you have seen today that he is a talent.
“I was very pleased with how he did today and that’s a credit to him for working hard and showing that he does want to get into the team.”
The only disappointing point from an otherwise faultless performance from the Exiles was the goal conceded at a set-piece, something Flynn admitted was tough to take after a solid defensive performance for the majority of the game.
“I’m disappointed with that one,” he commented.
“We do a lot of work on set-pieces, both for and against, and it’s disappointing.
“But I can’t fault the players today because second-half against the strong wind, we were by far the better team.”
The encounter with the Hatters kicked off a run of three successive matches at Rodney Parade, with the visit of Crewe Alexandra next weekend being followed by Coventry City on Good Friday.
Six of the remaining nine matches still to play in League 2 come in South Wales and Flynn believes that should the Exiles want a play-off position at the end of the season, it is now imperative to start picking up maximum points in-front of a home crowd.
“Of course they are vital,” he added.
“We’ve got another two in a row now – we’ve got to start winning games and getting some points.
“Look, today was a fantastic performance by the players.”
The gap on the play-off positions increased to seven points following the draw with Luton, although the Exiles do remain comfortably in the top-half of the League 2 table and in 11th place.
A place in the top-seven still remains a distinct possibility for Flynn and his players at the end of the season, with five of the remaining games left this campaign coming against teams above County in the table.
And Flynn believes that if his side take it game-by-game until the end of the season, then they have every chance of bridging that seven-point gap on Lincoln City in 7th.
“It’s not difficult at all,” he affirmed.
“I have a great group of players who work hard in training and who give their all for this football club.
“I don’t think you saw any players today who were hard to motivate. That’s the least of my worries.
“We just have to keep going now. A few of them have still got to play each-other again. Just got to keep going, it’s a big game on Saturday against Crewe now. Let’s hope we get the three points and then build again.”
The Exiles will look to get back on the play-off trail next weekend when Crewe Alexandra head to Rodney Parade.
Some early team news for that tie with the Railwaymen sees captain Joss Labadie as a major doubt, while Paul Hayes, who also missed the game with Luton, could be available to return.
Flynn stated: “We did the press conference on Thursday so never ask me again if everyone is fit because I won’t be answering you!
“We’re waiting on the scan results for Joss, it doesn’t look good if I’m honest, and Hayesy’s calf was too tight to risk him today.
“I could have maybe looked to risk him but there would have been every chance that he may have pulled it and been out for the rest of the season.
“Hayesy is short-term and Joss is not so short-term.”
Continuing on Labadie’s injury, Flynn added: “Joss has a suspected ACL (anterior-cruciate-ligament) injury and I’ll know more on Monday.
“There’s a big time frame for that – anything between six and twelve months. So it’s not good news that’s for sure.
“He’s had a fantastic season, he’s a fantastic lad and he is respected by all the players. He’s also respected by myself because he comes in day in day out and gives us his all.
“These things happen. It was a training ground incident, nothing bad, a player landed on top of him and I’ll know more for definite on Monday.”Photo by Mac Morgan
NEXT UP| It's £5 Football when we take on Crewe Alexandra! Don't miss out! Click here to buy tickets.