Mike Flynn says he was “over the moon” with the performance from his Newport County AFC players away at Forest Green Rovers but was “disappointed” not to inflict a first league defeat of the season on the unbeaten home side when settling for a 1-1 draw.
Both sides were containing each other well early on with respective high pressing game plans, but Rovers scored with one of their first attacks after 18 minutes of action.
County were caught napping at a quick throw-in on halfway, Liam Shephard quickly getting the ball back into play for Reece Brown who instantly smashed it over to the far side for Dayle Grubb to chase. The midfielder reached it and got past Tyler Forbes, drilling a cross along that floor that bounced off Scot Bennett and into his own net.
The Exiles responded well to falling behind at The New Lawn when keeping the ball for a sustained amount of time, although Antoine Semenyo wasted a good chance when free in the area and Tyreeq Bakinson was denied by home goalkeeper Robert Sanchez.
County’s equaliser finally did come after 38 minutes and once again illustrated some intricate passing movements by the side.
Robbie Willmott and Tyler Forbes – linking competently throughout – combined smartly on the right before Padraig Amond put Willmott with a clear run at full-back Joseph Mills, the delivery returned superbly for the awaiting Amond who picked his spot and found it with the desired precision from 12 yards.
Both sides traded attempts at the end of the first-half and then after the break, Reuben Reid hitting the crossbar in the pick of the action, but the two teams were again happy to contain each other with inspired defending.
There was, however, to be one final chance for County to take all three points and halt Forest Green’s unbeaten streak when Reid was then adjudged to have used his hand on the goal line to divert away an attempt from Jamille Matt.
Mickey Demetriou stepped up but his 100% record as penalty taker since joining the Exiles came to an unfortunate end as he blasted high over the crossbar.
That meant County had to settle for a point, a result that keeps them third in the League Two table, but Flynn felt his side deserved more for a credible performance away from home.
He affirmed: “I’m disappointed in the fact we haven’t got the three points but believe me, I’m over the moon with the way the boys performed today because I thought it was a solid performance. It was very good.
“I thought we were the better team and deserved the three points today. There wasn’t too much in it, but I just thought we were the better team – I was pleased with how we played today especially after going 1-0 down.
“You only have to look at it, we’ve scored an own goal and missed a penalty so I’m a little bit gutted. But I thought the boys were excellent.”
It was certainly an entertaining game at The New Lawn with both teams doing enough to warrant taking more from the game.
Alongside Reid’s ambitious effort that rattled the crossbar, midfielder Carl Winchester found the base of the post from 25 yards and Joe Day had to get down well to thwart full-back Liam Shephard.
For County, substitute Cameron Pring fired a header straight at Sanchez, while Jamille Matt and Antoine Semenyo both stung the gloves of the home goalkeeper in the second-half.
“Yeah it was a good game I have to be fair,” Flynn continued.
“There’s never many games you enjoy on the touchline but there was some really good stuff today and I thought we were excellent without having that final bit of quality.
“If we had that [final bit of quality], we’d have won quite comfortably.”
He added: “I’m maybe a little bit biased but I still thought we played the best stuff [in spite of them hitting the woodwork twice.]
“The amount of times we got down the sides of them and put some crosses in, it was just that final touch and bit of quality and we would have killed the game off.”
The missed penalty was clearly the potentially game changing moment.
But while Demetriou failed to find the target from the spot for the first time with the club, Flynn refused to attribute any blame to his centre-back and instead praised his character for stepping up in the first place.
He stated: “We came here, okay went 1-0 down, but I thought we looked after the game after that. We had better chances and like I said, with the penalty miss it’s a bit frustrating.
“The penalty is still going I’m sure, but we all miss them, it happens and look, he’s brave enough to go up and take it, so he’ll get no backlash from me about that.
“I’ll never have a go at anybody for missing a penalty – it’s just one of those things.”
County have conceded own goals in the past – and probably will in the future too – but very few will be more unfortunate than Bennett’s in Nailsworth.
Credit to Grubb for causing the issue in the initial instance, but the ball came that quickly into the area that Bennett couldn’t react to it and unfortunately luck was not on his side this time.
Flynn added: “Nothing could be done about it, it’s the most unfortunate own-goal because it took a bad deflection and it could have gone anywhere.
“But no, it had to go in our goal, and then with the penalty miss it becomes a bit of a frustrating day.
“But look, they played really well today. Forest Green are unbeaten, and we looked a good team against them today.”
Every player played their part in grinding out a solid result, but some did come in for particular individual praise from Flynn, including Semenyo.
The striker was basically playing a makeshift left-wing-back when County were forced to defend for long periods and looked accustomed to his defensive responsibilities.
Flynn affirmed: “He’s a young lad and I thought he was excellent today. The work rate he does, the things you don’t usually notice really.
“He was always quick to breakaway, shuts the angles off really well which is always good for a centre-forward who is only 18-years of age.
“We thought about changing things but there was no real need to because like I said, we felt really comfortable and I thought we were the better team.”
Another player to come in for praise following the game at the New Lawn was the returning Robbie Willmott.
The versatile midfielder returned from his three-match suspension to start for the first time in League Two this season, again combining well with Forbes on the right side to advantageous effect.
Flynn continued: “He had a little bit of a slow start, but I thought he was excellent overall. You could see what he did for the goal, again it’s those unseen things that he does as well, the tracking back, the positional play and he shut off the ball into Reuben Reid etc.
“I thought he was very good today.”
County now have a full week to rest and recover ahead of their next League Two outing, a home tie against play-off occupying Stevenage.
Flynn concluded: “It gives Matty Dolan an extra week. He trained yesterday but it would have been a little too early to throw him straight back in.
“That allowed Robbie to come in, we wanted to get down the sides of them and we did that. We just didn’t kill them off.”
We face Stevenage FC at home.