Mike Flynn has admitted that the upcoming Easter period is so important that it could be classified as the defining moment of the season for his Newport County AFC squad.
The games in quick succession over the forthcoming bank holidays have been notable for positional changes in the league tables of all divisions in the English system, with County attempting a late charge into the League 2 play-offs.
And Flynn believes he will know a lot more about where the side can finish at the end of the season after playing the two matches.
“The Easter weekend is crucial for nearly every club in the country,” he affirmed.
“You’ll have teams in the play-offs going into the automatic places and teams in the automatic places dropping to the play-offs. Teams in the relegation zone will get out of it and some will go into it.
“Everything could change because its two games over a small period of time. We’ll have a good idea Monday evening of what the season will end up like.”
The Easter period starts with a home tie against Coventry City, who themselves will be hoping to change positions in the league table over this time and sneak into the third and final automatic promotion place.
They will also be looking to avenge the 1-0 victory that County secured at the Ricoh Arena back in August, Brentford loanee Reece Cole netting the match-winner on that occasion.
And Flynn believes his squad will be in for a tough test come matchday.
“They’ve got a very good team spirit,” he stated.
“Good players, good management and good support. They are a big club and I remember playing against Coventry in the Championship.
“To see them in this league is good if you are going there because it’s a fantastic stadium, but it’s not where you want to see big clubs like Coventry City.
“If they can carry on their run, you never know, they might sneak into that third spot. Hopefully that doesn’t start on Friday and we can get up against them and get the win.
“That’s what we’ll be trying to do, that’s for sure.”
The Sky Blues will head to Rodney Parade as the favourites to pick up all three points, having gone unbeaten from their last six league matches.
Only league-leaders Accrington Stanley have picked up more points than Coventry in that time frame since 24th February, with the side now only six points off the automatic places and with a game in hand on Wycombe Wanderers.
But despite that upturn in form, Flynn says his side have not prepared any differently ahead of welcoming one of the form sides in the division to Rodney Parade, admitting his side would once again relish the underdog tag.
“We haven’t prepared differently,” he confirmed.
“We do all our homework on teams and treat them all the same. Obviously, some things are different because every team is different.
“But we fully respect Coventry as we did against Crewe and as we did against Tottenham Hotspur. We do our homework and due-diligence and we’ll make sure that we don’t leave any stone unturned.”
That encounter with the Midlands club comes at the start of the final eight games of the season.
The Exiles currently trail the play-off positions by ten points ahead of the match, with Flynn stating that he would be left feeling frustrated should his squad not give it everything to try and ascend into the top-seven.
He added: “It’s a mini-season and we want to finish that mini-season as best as we can. We want to carry that momentum on to next season.
“We’ve got a better squad than we had last season so there are no excuses really. The players have been fantastic, and they know that if they finish on a high then it’s going to be a really positive season. If they don’t, it will be a very frustrating one.
“I’m not interested in ‘what ifs’ so I’m going to make sure that we leave no stone unturned and give ourselves the best finish that we can. This bunch of players want to take the club as high as they can, and I definitely do.”
Flynn added: “For me, it would be very disappointing [if the season did fizzle out] because I don’t think the fans deserve it.
“The players are definitely not dropping any effort levels. If anything, they are working harder with all the GPS readings and everything that we’ve got.
“It proves they are working harder so it’s nothing to do with them putting their feet up. I wouldn’t let that happen, Wayne wouldn’t let that happen and Lennie wouldn’t let that happen.
“It’s just one of those things. We lost last-week to a team fighting to stay in the Football League. The goals weren’t good enough and we should have taken our chances when we were in positive positions.
“We’re Newport County AFC and we have no divine right to win any football match.”
The Exiles then have just three days to rest and recover from that Coventry game before making the trip to Derbyshire to face a Chesterfield side who will be fighting for their lives at the bottom of the League 2 table.
But Flynn wouldn’t be drawn too much on the challenge that the Spireites would provide to his side, preferring to stick with the mentality that worked so effectively last season, by taking it game by game.
“I’m just taking it one game at a time,” he said.
“I’ve not even given Chesterfield a second thought if I’m honest because we’ve got a really tough game against Coventry before that. They’ve got a really good manager and assistant manager in Mark Robins and Adi Viveash.
“It’s going to be a big challenge, but like I’ve said, we seem to do better against the bigger teams in the league.”
The two games in quick succession will provide County with the perfect opportunities to respond to the defeat against Crewe Alexandra last time out.
The Railwaymen’s win at Rodney Parade was just the third time that the Exiles have tasted defeat on home soil in the league this season, although Flynn was adamant that his players gave the same effort during the contest like every other match this season.
“The players did put a shift in,” he affirmed.
“What I said after the game was that we made the wrong decisions at the wrong times. That doesn’t mean it’s a lack of effort. It literally means it was poor decision making, it’s as simple as that really.
“Put it this way, they ran as much in that game as they did against Luton. I’ve got that proof, so it shows you that the effort was there.
“Did I think it was a vintage performance? No. Did I think we were at our best? No. But the effort was there because I know these players better than anybody.”
The Exiles certainly created enough chances during the game - but were let down by only testing away goalkeeper Ben Garratt with one of the eleven shots - that the goal from Mickey Demetriou.
And Flynn is convinced that it is just that clinical streak that County are missing at this moment in time.
He continued: “We just need to hammer home a bit of assertiveness when we’re on top. It’s just about finding the opportunities to take your chances.
“I think if you go back over the course of the season and see how many times I’ve said that we didn’t kill a team off at the right time then I’d say it’s at-least a dozen.
“That’s where we are at the moment, but the players deserve a lot of credit as-well for everything they have done this season.”
Some early team-news for the two upcoming games sees Joss Labadie as the only injury absentee for the Exiles. The County captain had the first part of his surgery on Monday, with Flynn confirming that this was a clear success and with no problems observed.
“It went very well,” he added.
“I spoke to Joss after it and everything was as expected. And now, he’ll be in next week to sit down with Adam and plan out his rehab.
“I told him to maybe have a week or two away just to freshen his mind up more than anything, but he just wants to get back in.
“He wants to do what he can now so he can come back stronger.”
Flynn continued: “It [Joss’s injury] gives other players a chance to show what they are made of. I thought they did very well against Luton, not so good last weekend.
“If those players can come in for Joss and produce the goods then fingers crossed, it won’t be as big a loss as we think it could be.”
Despite having just the one injury concern to contend with this week, Flynn also confirmed that he may still have to make changes between the two matches, owing to the short time scale between them.
He said: “The Easter period is so difficult with the two games in three days and it does take its toll.
“Hopefully, we’ve got enough players who feel fresh enough to go again Monday. If they don’t, then we will have to make changes on Monday, it’s as simple as that.
“It’s a tough time. It’s a tough league and it’s a challenge. That’s what you want to keep having in your career because as soon as you stand still, then you’re going backwards.”
Flynn continued: “Everybody has trained well. We want to put last weekend’s disappointment behind us and we need to improve on that.
“That’s us all as-well because we are all in this together – myself, Wayne, Lennie, goalkeeping coach, physio – everybody needs to keep on improving.
“Believe it or not, I learnt a lot last weekend and what I said after the game about whether we could handle being the favourites so to speak is something we need to get across to the players.
“When you look at it now, we’ve dropped 18 points against the bottom five clubs. That’s no disrespect to those clubs because we’ve been one in the last two seasons.
“We’ve had some good away and home wins against some of the big teams in the league so it’s frustrating that we have lost that many points against the bottom clubs.”