Mike Flynn hailed an excellent team performance as Newport County AFC returned to winning ways in League Two with a 3-1 victory over Northampton Town at Rodney Parade.
In arguably the Exiles’ best opening 45 minutes this season, some exceptional attacking play was rewarded with three beautifully executed goals as every player in the squad contributed to the performance.
After just five minutes County were ahead, Dan Butler running the left channel to advantageous effect and when he pulled the ball back to the edge of the area, Josh Sheehan swooped in to calmly slot into the bottom corner for his first goal of the campaign.
Northampton hit back almost immediately, and they found their equaliser with 11 minutes on the clock. Captain David Buchanan’s free-kick caused pinball in the area and Cobblers striker Andy Williams reacted quickest to fire past Joe Day.
From there, it was completely one-way traffic from the Exiles and they quickly took the game from their visitors with two goals in and around the half hour mark.
On 29 minutes, Butler’s floated free-kick from wide went all the way to the far post and when Mark O’Brien rose highest to meet the delivery and head it across the face of goal, Jamille Matt had the simplest of jobs to get his 12th goal of the campaign.
Four minutes later the points were pretty much secured as Padraig Amond once again finished off a lovely flowing move from the Exiles. Tyreeq Bakinson this time provided the assist with a neat through ball, the Irishman smashing it first time into the roof of the net past a helpless David Cornell.
In the second-half, County’s defensive resilience was tested but they stood up to the test relatively comfortably, Fraser Franks blocking a Daniel Powell shot and Mark O’Brien making numerous important tackles.
That victory kept County level with Colchester United in the final automatic promotion place, only behind on goal difference, and Flynn was certainly happy with the side’s response from a defeat just three days earlier.
“I thought we were excellent,” he affirmed.
“What Cheltenham did to us on Saturday, we just did to Northampton. It was a very professional performance and I think it was something we needed to do because we let ourselves down on Saturday.
“I thought the boys were right up for it today – they were hungry, on the front foot, and Mark O’Brien and Andrew Crofts coming back in was big for us.
“You could see they improved us on Saturday as well and it made us more solid. But not just solid, it allowed the forward-thinking players to go forward a bit more because they knew they had that protection.
“I just thought we were brilliant throughout. The second half was just as good for a different reason. We were solid, resolute, went forward when we had to go forward and saw the game out.
“It’s Newport County AFC, it’s a rollercoaster ride and how many times have we conceded with a couple of minutes to go and then they nick a late equaliser at the end.
“There was none of that tonight. They had a few long throws at the end but no shots on target.
“They say it’s a game of two halves. First half, we were blistering going forward, created some good chances and scored some good goals. Second half, we just snuffed them out and handled everything that came our way.”
Flynn made three changes to the side that started in Gloucestershire on Saturday – including giving captain Andrew Crofts his first start since late August after the midfielder fully shrugged off his injury concerns.
He added: “The physio told me at half-time that Crofty would have to come off and I said there was not a chance he was coming off.
“I thought he was excellent. That’s why he’s played at the top level, that’s why he’s such a good professional and I’ve just said that in the dressing room.
“The younger players need to look at him, how he conducts and carries himself.
“He was brilliant. That’s why he’s played so many times for his country, in the Premier League and for big clubs. That’s why I wanted him here. I wanted him to help the younger boys push forward and that’s what he brings to the table.
“It’s nothing spectacular. He’s not going to a load of rollovers, drag backs and put one in the top corner because those days are gone. What he’s going to do is control the game, be in the right positions at the right time and organise the team.”
One of the players that can really learn from the expertise of Crofts is Bristol City loanee Tyreeq Bakinson.
The 20-year old bagged himself another assist with the splitting pass into Amond’s path for the third goal, alongside influencing the game throughout from his holding midfield position alongside his captain.
“He’s got all the tools,” Flynn stated.
“He’s been great for us but just gets a little carried away at times. He’s a great lad because he cares about this football club. You don’t always get that with loan players, sometimes it can be all about themselves, but he’s not.
“And neither are any of the loan players. They are all a great group and that adds to the already good team spirit we’ve got here.”
Completing the midfield trio in the game was Josh Sheehan – who would have been boosted by his inaugural goal of the season.
“I thought he was excellent,” Flynn continued.
“He’s broke a record – he won six headers and I’ve never seen him win six headers in a season!
“I was really pleased for him because he’s been inconsistent and that’s why he hasn’t been playing. I thought he was good at Carlisle but had a poor game against Met Police when he should have taken that chance and kicked on.
“But I thought he was very good and fair play to him for having the character to bounce back.”
The victory at Rodney Parade gave the Exiles another win against a team expected to be challenging come the end of the season – and facing a side just relegated from League One is always going to be difficult.
Flynn continued: “It’s 35 points already and we’ve beaten some big teams here. It’s the start of an important month now and this is a good way to start it.
“It’s a very busy period now and we’ve got an important month. They are all big games and that’s what we want, we want every game to feel like a big game because we’re at the right end of the table.
“And actually, I’m a bit disappointed we’re not a bit higher.”
The next game in this important month according to Flynn is Saturday’s Emirates FA Cup Second Round tie with Wrexham at the Racecourse.
It will be the first meeting between the two sides since County secured promotion to League Two with a play-off final victory against the Dragons in May 2013 – and Flynn is full of confidence ahead of the trip to North Wales.
He affirmed: “I hope Wrexham came and watched tonight because they’ll be worried. That’s the focus now, rest up right now and go and beat Wrexham on Saturday.
“That’s all I’m thinking about at the minute.”
NEXT UP | We are in Emirates FA Cup action vs Wrexham AFC. Get your Tickets here.
NEXT AT HOME| We face MK Dons on the 15th December. Get Tickets Here.
DON'T FORGET | After our match vs MK Dons, you can join us at The Neon for a Newport County AFC Christmas Party. Buy tickets here.