Mike Flynn heaped praise on his entire Newport County AFC squad for showing the mental resilience and character required to come from two goals down and secure all three points in a 4-2 victory over Cambridge United at Rodney Parade.
County were initially made to pay for their slow start to proceedings and were staring right at the prospect of successive home league defeats as Reggie Lambe pounced twice in 21 minutes.
The attacking midfielder scored from both sides of the pitch when found in acres of space, taking the ball on the left before curling a shot into the bottom corner from 20 yards, whilst he was just as effective on the right and after dancing past Dan Butler and Mickey Demetriou, finished well into the top corner.
But one thing no one can doubt about County this season is the side show tremendous character regardless of whether they are winning, losing or drawing, and the Exiles snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in a stunning 18-minute spell either side of half-time.
The comeback was linked to Jamille Matt’s introduction into the game five minutes before half-time, the striker heading a ball down for Charlie Cooper who was fouled by Liam O’Neil, and Mickey Demetriou dispatched the penalty.
That massively changed Flynn’s half-time team talk and County were straight out the traps with intent in the second-half and had levelled three minutes after the restart.
Padraig Amond put a halt to his barren run in-front of goal when prodding home the equaliser, capitalising after Brad Halliday could only mis-kick Dan Butler’s cross into the area.
Matt was still proving the menacing difference for County and he turned the game on its head after an hour when scoring a diving header, before adding another header just three minutes later – both by crosses from Butler.
That was enough for County to complete a remarkable turnaround at Rodney Parade to take all three points – and Flynn was quick to praise the character of his squad post-match.
“I’ll be honest, it was no good for my blood pressure,” he affirmed.
“You can’t give teams head starts like we did but I’m going to concentrate on the positives. The character the boys showed, the quality they showed at times and the desire to keep the ball out one end and put it in at the other end was fantastic.
“The way we started wasn’t what we’re about and you do start fearing the worst when you go 2-0 down, they were poor goals to concede.
“We gave them too much time and too much space so we made a big decision to put Jamille Matt on.
“But we did fear the worst when we had Joe Day missing, Mark O’Brien gets injured within 10 seconds and then going 2-0 down.
“I was thinking – what else can go wrong? But we made that decision, we went brave by bringing Jamille on and he changed the game.
“He’s won the flick-on before Charlie Cooper was pushed, definite penalty. And goals change games and we showed an abundance of character today.”
It was a big call for Flynn to make but bringing on Jamille Matt in the first-half massively changed the ascendency at Rodney Parade.
Commenting further on his brave move, Flynn continued: “Listen, sometimes changes work and sometimes they don’t. I’m paid to make those decisions and I hope I get more right than I get wrong.
“Today we were excellent apart from the two goals conceded, the players put in a lot of effort today and showed the fans how much it means to them.
“That win was for Joe Day today. I said to the boys that he’s saved us enough times, won us enough points, so we dedicate those three points to Joe Day and his family today.”
County always looked likely to drive home their ascendency, Cambridge only had two shots on goal in the first-half albeit they did take them both, and it was more about whether the Exiles could get one back and still leave enough time to take something from the game.
Once Demetriou converted the penalty, there only looked likely to be one winner and Flynn admitted those were his feelings too.
He continued: “Yeah we did if I’m being honest [think we could win the game when it went to 2-1.] I don’t mean that in any way arrogantly, it was one of those where you're 2-0 down and if you get the next one and go in 2-1 at half-time, it’s interesting then.
“If they go and put themselves 3-0 up then it becomes a tough, tough ask. Look, goals change games and it was an outstanding performance from my boys.”
It is now one of the best runs of results since Flynn took temporary caretaker charge of the club in March 2017. In-fact, as Flynn pointed out post-match, the points tally at the moment strikes a remarkable similarity to those matches in the ‘Great Escape.’
“We’ve set targets and we want to beat things now,” Flynn stated.
“When we stayed up, the 12 games I had in charge we ended up with 22 points out of the 12 games.
“That was very good form, we’ve got those same amount of points now in the first ten games, we could end up with 22 after 12 matches in the worst-case scenario, but we’ve got a good chance now to show we’ve made improvements.”
Jamille Matt will more than likely, and rightly so, take the headlines for his role in the comeback but it was an excellent attacking display from the Exiles.
After getting another two goals in midweek, Matt may have felt hard done by to find his name on the bench at Rodney Parade but Flynn believes it goes to show how focused his players are that they can come off the bench and still have the desired effect.
He commented: “That’s the character we’ve got. There’s no egos, everybody knows they will get their chance and Jamille will be the first to tell you that he hasn’t had the most fluent training or run of games.
“He’s had little niggles here and there, he hasn’t had a full set a training. He’s getting there, even at Tranmere he came on and looked absolutely shattered. Then on Tuesday night, he worked his socks off and lasted 81 minutes or so before he got that ankle knock.
“That hour he’s just played won’t do him any harm."
On Padraig Amond: “I’ll never get tired of praising Padraig Amond. He’s a fantastic professional and the work he does for the team is exceptional.
“From a team view and a manager’s view, he’s a pleasure to have, he’s outstanding."
On Antoine Semenyo: “Antoine is a big talent, he’s a little bit raw but he’s a big talent. He’s got strength, pace, his feet are identically the same – I’ve asked him a few times what foot he is.
“He’s good in the air, just needs to now hone in a few more skills and he’s a big, big talent.”
The result leaves County second in the table, just three points off League Two leaders Lincoln City, and they will look to close the gap on Tuesday night against Macclesfield Town.
The Silkmen will head to Rodney Parade at the bottom of the League Two table and winless so far in the league this season, but Flynn will not be underestimating Mark Yates’ men.
He confirmed: “Macclesfield Town will be wanting to get off the mark. There’s no easy game in this league believe me.
“I’ve just reiterated that to the players because Macclesfield will be hurting, they’ll be hungry to end their winless run.
“I know Mark Yates, he’s a proud man and he’ll have them up for it don’t you worry about that.”
County may have to meet Macclesfield Town without Mark O’Brien, who might join Andrew Crofts and Matty Dolan on the injury list after picking up a hamstring injury early on.
Flynn admitted: “I’ve never seen a hamstring done that quick in all my career if I’m honest. It doesn’t look good at the moment, too early to tell fully, so I won’t be putting a time scale on that just yet.”
NEXT UP| We face Macclesfield Town in the League on Tuesday 2nd October. Buy Now.
AFTER THAT| We travel to Forest Green Rovers on Saturday 6th September. This match is ALL-TICKET so Buy Today.