Mike Flynn labelled his defence as “absolute machines” after another resilient and inspired performance sent Newport County AFC joint top of League Two following the 1-0 victory at Oldham Athletic.
Such was the defensive tenacity for County’s first trip to Boundary Park in 37 years, the Latics were restricted to just two opportunities in the first-half.
Callum Lang’s effort from outside the area was blocked bravely by Fraser Franks before trickling into Joe Day’s gloves, before the shot stopper had to be alert to thwart Dan Gardner’s close-range effort after a mazy run from the midfielder.
At the other end, Franks was making a nuisance of himself in the opposition penalty area as well and it took the lightning reflexes of Zeus De La Paz to keep out his powerful attempt after Padraig Amond’s flick-on, whilst Josh Sheehan was also denied.
The defences of both sides were making it extremely difficult for chances to be created in Lancashire and that transpired into the second-half as well, Mickey Demetriou seeing a header tipped over the crossbar just after the restart.
More resolute defensive work by Scot Bennett prevented the vivacious Lang from getting in on goal, the Oldham birthday boy causing a whole host of problems that the County defence had to nullify in order to preserve the clean sheet.
That decisive interception became more important when the Exiles were able to quickly turn defence into attack and break the deadlock with 20 minutes remaining.
David Pipe’s tenacious work down the right resulted in a cross into the area, that was cleared as far as Matty Dolan then Dan Butler, the left-back playing a splitting pass into Tyreeq Bakinson who took one touch before firing a shot across De La Paz into the far corner from 10 yards.
Flynn had previously said if Bakinson could shoot he would be the “deal of the century” and the midfielder certainly showed the poise required to make it at the top level – taking his chance when it came to give County a priceless lead.
That goal was ultimately enough to seal County’s first ever away victory against Oldham Athletic, as the Exiles defended resolutely just like at Port Vale last weekend – moving joint top of the division after Lincoln City’s shock home defeat to Crawley Town.
And that defensive unity exuded by the Exiles at Boundary Park was certainly something that pleased Flynn post-match.
He affirmed: “This is a very tough place to come, there won’t be many teams that come here and win this season because Oldham are a decent outfit.
“We weren’t at our best attacking wise today but saying that, we scored a very good goal and their goalkeeper also made two very good saves.
“One thing we did do was defend like absolute machines. Kept our shape, kept the discipline, nobody dived in and despite them getting a few crosses into the box, it was usually met by one of our players.
“I thought we were exceptionally solid without being great going forward."
He continued: “I think I said it last week, but this is the best group I’ve had. Days like today prove why I think that. It wasn’t the greatest attacking performance but what they did as a team, as a unit was absolutely first-class. It was some dogged display let me tell you.”
For the second away game in succession, the Exiles had to fight for their lives in order to secure all three points.
On this occasion, County were able to keep their first away clean sheet since March by stifling the clear threat of Lang and striker Sam Surridge for the Latics.
And Flynn believes these gritty, determined victories by slender margins on the road are better than securing wins by comprehensive score lines – because it shows the desire of the side to constantly fight for the cause.
He stated: “It’s more satisfying because you can see that team spirit, that togetherness and you know, the shape we work on and how they keep to that shape.
“When one player goes forward, the next one drops in to fill his position or cover the gap to prevent the ball going into the striker’s feet.
“Joe’s had a couple of saves to make but we had the two best chances before half-time when Josh Sheehan and Fraser Franks forced two great saves from their goalkeeper.
“Oldham will cause a lot of team’s problems, but I’m just absolutely delighted to come away with the three points here.”
Bakinson’s first ever professional goal couldn’t have come at a better time for County – the midfielder finally getting his just rewards for constantly making runs in behind and giving opposition defences something extra to think about.
Flynn said on the goal: “It was a great ball from Dan Butler. It was literally a league above or maybe even two leagues above pass.
“It was a great run from Tyreeq to meet it and I’m just glad it didn’t end up on his right foot because he probably would have put it out of the stadium.
“It was a controlled and very accomplished finish and I’m delighted for him to get off the mark.”
The victory did put County alongside Lincoln City at the top of the League Two table, with the Exiles off the summit by an inferior goal difference of seven.
But Flynn was again adamant that his players cannot get carried away with the club’s best ever start to a Football League season – saying it would be naive to read anything into the league standings at this stage.
He continued: “I’m not afraid to say it again, I’m not trying to play things down because I’d say exactly the same if we were down the bottom, but the table means absolutely nothing to me.
“It’s great that we’ve won a football match, it’s great that we’ve got a few points on the board and it’s good that we’re playing some really good football.
“Like I said, this is a tough place to go and I’m delighted that we’ve got the points.”
Flynn also revealed post-match that County had much more of an attacking crisis than he said was the case at his weekly press conference.
Antoine Semenyo was a definite absentee for the game through concussion, as was Mark Harris who was away but has now returned from Wales U21 duty.
But Flynn confessed that both Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt both had to overcome late fitness tests in order to start – and he heaped praise on his strike-force for playing through the pain and working themselves into the ground for the team.
He confirmed: “Listen, I’ll never be one to make excuses and I certainly wouldn’t have done if we’d have lost this game, but let me tell you the two centre-forwards I had today, we didn’t really know they could play until 12:45 today.
“They’ve both been struggling all week, the other two strikers are out, so we did literally have no strikers at one point.
“We had two players out there who really shouldn’t have been, ideally I would have played the other two and they [Amond and Matt] wouldn’t have started.
“They were struggling all week, but Padraig Amond has just put in the most unselfish performance by a striker that I’ve seen definitely in the last 10 years and maybe most of my career.”
It is now anticipated that both of those strikers will be given the night off when County turn their attentions to CheckaTrade Trophy action in midweek.
The Exiles kick-off their group stage campaign with a short trip to Swindon Town, and Flynn says he will use the game as an opportunity to get much-needed minutes into the legs of some of his squad.
He affirmed: “I don’t know about mixing it up as such but there are players who need games and there are also players who are dead on their feet [in the dressing room.]
“It would be silly of me to play them because I don’t think it would be fair to them – one or two of them are close to picking up an injury and to play them on Tuesday would be very selfish and stupid of me.
“I need to get them all up to speed, get a bit of confidence into a few of them because we have got a few players chomping at the bit [to get in the team.]
“They should go in and make sure they do well to give me another problem for Saturday.
“Antoine Semenyo is back for Tuesday and I think Mark Harris will be fine for Saturday so at-least we’ve got two coming back.”
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