Mike Flynn believes the time is right for his Newport County AFC side to make their ascent towards the League 2 play-off positions.
The Exiles have ten matches still to play this season, starting with Luton Town on Saturday, with seven of the remaining fixtures coming at home.
The visit of the Hatters to Rodney Parade on the weekend starts a run of three successive games in South Wales for County, who currently trail the top-seven by just six points following Coventry City picking up a point against Luton on Tuesday night.
The Hatters head into the game on the back of a run that sees them winning just one of their last six league matches, picking up seven points from a possible eighteen, and Flynn has challenged his side to capitalise on that slight dip in form on Saturday.
“It is a big chance,” he affirmed.
“They’ve been top of the table all season but have had a little bit of a wobble.
“Everybody has a wobble, I’ve been told they haven’t won in four, so imagine how they are feeling with the size of their budget.
“The pressure is on them I think. There’s no pressure on us, we’ve already got more points than we did last season.
“I want my players to go out there and enjoy the occasion and hopefully enjoy beating one of the top teams in the league.”
The encounter with the Hatters will also see Flynn come up against the other Welsh manager in League 2, with Nathan Jones currently in-charge at the Kenilworth Road outfit.
Jones has been in-charge with the club for just over two years and has a win rate of 49.6% from his 127 competitive fixtures.
He led them into the play-offs last season, where they lost in the semi-final to eventual winners Blackpool, while also taking them into the Emirates FA Cup Third-Round this season.
And Flynn has been impressed with the job that his fellow countryman has done down in Bedfordshire.
“He’s done a good job,” he stated.
“Everybody always goes on about the size of the budget that they have but you have got to use it correctly.
“It’s easy to say that they have this, and they have that, which they have. I’m not going to hide it, but you have got to spend that wisely.
“If you don’t, then you end up with a lot of average players who are on good money. I think what Nathan has put together has been a very, very good squad.
He added: “There is a lot of pressure on them.
“It comes with the territory. Like I said, Nathan has done well in that respect. He’s had a lot of pressure to deal with because of the expectation levels at the club.
“Hopefully their wobble continues because they won’t fancy coming here on Saturday.”
The Exiles have their own amount of pressure to deal with ahead of the game, with it looking unlikely that they can afford to drop too many more points from now until the end of the campaign.
But Flynn feels his players will be able to stand up and deal with the pressure over the next ten games, citing what happened last season as a cause for optimism in the hunt for the play-off positions.
“I think the players have shown that they can handle pressure as-well,” he affirmed.
“They showed it last season and have done it at certain times of this season as-well in the FA Cup run and in the League Cup run.
“We wanted to start the season well, they handled that pressure well, so they can do it.
“The only pressure we have is what we put on ourselves now, which is bigger than any pressure other people could put on us anyway.”
Flynn also believes that he has been able to put together a squad that encompasses the right mentality to battle against adversity and mount a challenge for the top-seven.
He continued: “I think I said at the beginning of the season that the right mentality and the right togetherness can get you 10 points a season.
“It’s something we’ve got here – it’s pulled us through in some games where it might not have in the past. And it’s kept us together when things haven’t gone our way i.e. losing 5-0 at Mansfield.
“We all want to go to the end goal which is finishing as high as we can in the league.”
County return to Rodney Parade on the back of a first win since 19th January with an impressive victory at Yeovil Town.
And Flynn believes instilling that winning mentality back into the side will help them enormously before the end of the season.
“It was important to get back on the winning trail,” he added.
“I do think we should have won the previous two against Port Vale and Forest Green, but we didn’t.
“It was a tough game down at Yeovil. Did we play as well down there as we did second-half against Port Vale? No, but we got the goals and thankfully it got us back on the winning trail.”
Some early team-news from that trip to Somerset sees all County players come through the match unscathed.
And Flynn believes he will have a full squad to choose from at the weekend.
“No injuries at the moment,” he confirmed.
“Obviously Benno came back last week, and Frank’s partner had the baby so that’s good news for him, a bit of pressure off his shoulders because I think it was weighing on his mind.
“So yeah, everybody is in and fingers crossed, everybody is up for selection on the weekend.”
Paul Hayes continued his rich vein of goal-scoring form at Huish Park, scoring in the dying seconds to confirm a well-earnt three points for the side.
That takes Hayes to four goals in his last two games, with Flynn admitting it is difficult to find a reason not to play the striker in the upcoming games.
“He’s fit to go again… just about,” he added.
“Look, he’s been good, hasn’t he? Let’s not dress it up, but we have to use him wisely.
“If that means him playing longer on Saturday and maybe missing training on Monday and Tuesday, then that’s something we’ll have to do.
“The challenge will be when we have two [in quick succession,] the Easter break will be tough. We’ll have to address it at that point, but he has been in good form.
“It is hard to leave him out. But that is what I want, I want it to be difficult for me to leave them out.”
Josh Sheehan netted the opener against the Glovers last weekend, scoring his first goal in County colours for 420 days having re-joined the club permanently during the January window.
Flynn commented: “Josh Sheehan has got his first goal so that will give him a tremendous lift.
“He’s been a bit frustrated, but we know when the time is right to put him in.
“We put him in earlier and I thought he did okay in the first game but in the second one, he was warn out.
“That’s nothing against Josh – he was out for a long time and we’ve just got to be careful not to rush that and burn him out before he starts.”
Padraig Amond came off just before the Exiles opened the scoring last weekend, although Flynn says that the Irishman wasn’t carrying any sort of injury at the time.
“It was purely tactical,” he confirmed.
“He was frustrated but I spoke to him afterwards and explained my reasons why.
“He probably didn’t want to hear this but when I took him off, we scored almost straight away. Probably could have done with him back on then because of the work rate that he goes through.
“He’s a great professional, so dedicated and does all of the right things. He was frustrated to come off but that is completely fine, I would have been more frustrated myself if he had not been frustrated to come off.
“He’s a team player and is the first one to congratulate everybody. I think he jumped up and hit his head on the dugout when we scored so that goes to show that we are all in it together.”
Away from on-field matters, the South Wales Argus hosted their inaugural Sports Awards at the Celtic Manor on Wednesday night.
Flynn picked up two awards on the night – the Sports Personality of the Year award alongside the Professional Sports Personality of the Year award.
The Newport County AFC Player of the Year award was also awarded on the night – with Ben White gaining over 60% of the votes to beat Joss Labadie in second and Dan Butler in third.
And Flynn was pleased to see the Brighton loanee win the award following a stellar season for the Exiles.
“He’s been tremendous,” he affirmed.
“I’ll go as far as saying that he is the best loan signing that the club has ever made.
“I know Karl Darlow will be up there as-well, but Ben White is probably the best.
“He’s been tremendous for somebody as young as him and never been out on loan before. Just the way he has fitted in and taken everything in his stride, it’s been brilliant.
“I’d like to thank the South Wales Argus and the organizers of the event for that award to him because it is thoroughly deserved.”