Mike Flynn hailed Newport County AFC’s 2-1 success at Port Vale as the “most important victory of the season” after a resilient and determined performance secured the first three-point haul away from home for the Exiles this campaign.
After withstanding some early pressure that saw Dave Worrall and Louis Dodds denied, County took the lead after 18 minutes following a goalmouth scramble.
Matty Dolan’s corner-kick was only half cleared by Leon Legge into the path of Josh Sheehan, the midfielder’s volley pinballing off Lewis Hardcastle and Connell Rawlinson in the penalty area, allowing Scot Bennett to swivel and stab past Scott Brown.
Vale – who were previously unbeaten at home in the league – hit back from there and they found their equaliser nine minutes later after a corner-kick tactic of their own.
Luke Hannant’s drilled the delivery into the area with pace and when Joe Day couldn’t quite get the desired connection with his punch, Valiants talisman Tom Pope headed into an empty net to level the scoring.
That goal was a historic one as Pope became the all-time top scorer at Vale Park following his 56th strike at the stadium, but the Exiles were in no mood for a party and retook the lead just after the interval.
Clever work between Josh Sheehan and Mark Harris sent the latter clear into the area with a sight of goal, and after cutting the ball back which Padraig Amond left after hearing a shout, Dan Butler swooped in from nowhere to calmly side foot past Brown and once again give County the lead.
Port Vale had to do something to try and force the issue in front of their home support and substitute striker Ricky Miller will still be wondering how he didn’t score after hitting the post with a powerful attempt alongside finding the side-netting twice.
County withstood all that pressure from the home side late on to hold out for a first win in Stoke-on-Trent for nearly 50 years – and it was the manner of that inspired resilience that most pleased Flynn after the game.
He affirmed: “It was a really important win today. It’s our first away win of the season in the league and it’s an important one.
“Of course it does [give us belief.] That for me was the most important win of the season because we weren’t at our fluent best but they showed the character today that they’ll need to show for the rest of the season.
“There are some tough places for us to go to [later this season] and they’ll need to fight, dig in and show what they did today.
“I thought the boys were absolutely outstanding, wasn’t one of our best performances but they dug deep and they defended really well.”
County’s character and poise in the face of the late onslaught at Vale Park highlighted everything positive Flynn and his coaching staff have been engraining into the side so far this season.
Mark O’Brien came on for his first minutes of the campaign having overcome the leg injury sustained during pre-season, providing a shield in front of the County defence to beneficial effect, while Jamille Matt and Keanu Marsh-Brown also helped out defensively following their introductions.
Speaking about that unity within the team, Flynn continued: “That’s what this club is all about. It’s a special club, not the most polished, but it’s definitely a club that values good people and looks after good people who give their all.
“I’ve got an outstanding group of boys. They are all together, all work their socks off and enjoy playing for the football club.
“It’s a joy for me to be their manager. I’m not getting carried away or anything, it’s September now but it’s good we’ve got these points on the board early.
“I’ve got a squad of players who work hard every day for themselves and for each other. Like I said, it’s a joy to be their manager.
“We’re going to have tough times, we know that. But it was a good win.”
Flynn also commended the home side for making County work so hard to secure all three points.
In the first-half, Pope’s presence in and around the area forced Mickey Demetriou to head against his own post, Miller came close throughout his cameo appearance and fellow substitute Ben Whitfield only narrowly avoided the far post with a cross-shot from distance.
Reflecting on the test posed by the Valiants, Flynn added: “They are a tough team, they hit the post twice and look, they had a couple of chances but so did we.
“It was gritty because they lump the ball into the box, Pope’s a handful, but I thought the boys dealt with that threat tremendously. When Joe Day took that cross down late on, then I just knew it was going to be our day.
“I thought because of the way we defended and the way we went about the game today, I thought we deserved the win.”
It was certainly a case of the unlikely lads when looking at the players on the County scoresheet.
Butler scored only his fourth goal for the Exiles in his 108th appearance for the club, whilst Bennett scored for the first time in nearly 11 months having previously found the net in the comprehensive victory at Forest Green Rovers last October.
Speaking on the two goal scorers at Vale Park, Flynn stated: “I said the last time Benno scored that we won, it was against Forest Green I think and when those two are scoring, it gives you a good feeling because believe me, they don’t hit the target in training!”
The result did lift County into 2nd place of the League Two table even if after only six matchdays, with the side just three points off early pace setters Lincoln City at this early stage of the season.
But Flynn again reiterated his stance that he won’t be looking at the league table too much until the season starts to draw to more of a close.
He affirmed: “I don’t take any notice of the table and everyone knows that, I’ve said it many times before. I wouldn’t take too much notice if we were down the bottom either at this point. It’s the 1st of September and it’s a long, long season.
“Listen, if we stay injury free then we’ll be fine I’m sure.”
The game in Stoke-On-Trent came just 24 hours after County were able to secure the coup of a loan-deal for Cameron Pring on transfer deadline day.
The Bristol City youngster joins until at-least January and will be looking to get his first experience in the Football League whilst with the Exiles, although did star in Hereford FC’s promotion campaign into the National League North last season.
Flynn said on the versatile left-sided player: “Cameron gives us that cover, the balance on the left-side. And he’s very quick. But it’s going to be tough for him to get in because Dan Butler is doing really well.
“He’s got to be patient but I’m sure he’ll take his opportunity when he gets it.”
Pring went straight onto the bench during the tie at Vale Park but there was no spot for captain Andrew Crofts who has suffered a setback after returning to the first-team fold in midweek.
Padraig Amond also had to be withdrawn during the contest and Flynn was able to provide an update on the duo post-match.
“I think he’s [Amond] got a dead leg and that’s all I’m hoping it is. Not too serious hopefully.
“Yeah [there’s been a bit of a setback with Andrew.] He went over on his ankle yesterday in training so that’s not ideal, but it’s a long season.”
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