Mike Flynn hailed his “absolutely exceptional” defensive unit for getting him the desired response to last weekend’s first home league defeat of the season by putting in yet another resolute and gritty display in the 1-0 victory at Tranmere Rovers.
The defence certainly stole the headlines at both ends of the pitch as centre-back Fraser Franks put himself joint top of the County league scoring charts when getting the games only goal after just five minutes.
It was a finish that any of the strikers would have been proud to score and again highlighted a good move from the Exiles.
Tranmere captain Stephen McNulty could only clear Matty Dolan’s free-kick out to Dan Butler out-wide, the left-back putting the ball straight back into the penalty area and when Padraig Amond rose highest, Franks worked his way into space to get onto the flick-on and rifle low into the bottom corner.
Antoine Semenyo came agonisingly close to doubling the lead when capitalising on indecision from Manny Monthe, but fired wide of the far post, while Mark O’Brien was denied his first of the season by an acrobatic save from Scott Davies.
Tranmere grew into the game the longer it progressed but found the unbreakable County wall in their way, although James Norwood did waste a good chance when chipping a shot onto the roof of the net.
Both sides traded opportunities to start second-half proceedings but as the game drew to its conclusion, Tranmere started to risk things when pushing more players forward.
Joe Day was equal to most of the numerous crosses pumped into the area, but even when one did get into the area, it was always a County shirt quickest to it to clear.
Rovers mustered their first shot on target at the start of stoppage time, Day tipping a Jonny Smith cross-shot wide of the post, before acrobatically denying Larnell Cole from the resultant corner-kick.
That meant County secured their third successive victory on the road in League Two – and Flynn heaped praise on his defence post-match for responding to last weekend.
“I thought the players were absolutely fantastic today,” he affirmed.
“Even at the end where we had to hang on after they threw everything at it, we defended excellently.
“And it goes to show the things we do work on prove last week was hopefully just a blip because the way we defended today was absolutely exceptional. I think James Norwood missed one in the first-half and the save at the end. They didn’t really trouble Joe Day too much.
“And do you know what, if we would have taken our clear-cut chances, we would have won the game by three or four.
“Antoine missed a good one after we scored, Podge missed a good one as well, so it was a very, very good away performance.”
He continued: “Micky Mellon has just come up to me and said ‘well defended.’ I’ll take that as a compliment because we have to do that at times.
“We don’t expect to be able to wipe people off the pitch and take anybody for granted. Tranmere are a good team, got a lot of good players, and if we have to defend for the last ten minutes away from home then that’s what we’ll do.
“And I think it shows we can do that – it was important to keep a clean sheet and get back to winning ways.”
After similar displays at Port Vale and Oldham Athletic this month, County again looked assured despite the late onslaught from the home side.
County surrendered 21 points from winning positions last season but have failed to give up a lead so far in League Two and even the cup competitions as well, showing that resilience required to again grind out a result.
Flynn added: “We were away from home and you have to be able to defend, in the last ten minutes they threw everything at it. You’ve got to be strong and resilient and keep the shape because this is a very tough place to come.
“This is the first time Tranmere have lost here in the league, so that shows the boys did their job. They sat in and Tranmere didn’t trouble us even though they were bombarding everything.
“It’s been a great day and like I said, I knew I would get a response from my players. If I’m totally honest, I probably would have taken a point before we came here, but to come here, win three on the row away from home in the league was absolutely superb.
“The players deserve all the credit. Its these players that deserve the credit and the fans that travelled up. They didn’t stop all the way, it looked a pretty good away following for such a distance.”
Flynn made some changes to his defensive unit ahead of the game at Prenton Park, restoring Tyler Forbes to the starting side in place of David Pipe, while Scot Bennett moved into midfield to accommodate the inclusion of Mark O’Brien.
And that gave Flynn even more reason to praise the display from the team post-match.
He commented: “Like I said, there will be times where we have to grind it out and be resilient. But they were fantastic. The boys were excellent, the amount of running Scot Bennett did off the ball was absolutely superb.
“Tyler came back in, Antoine came back in and was a nuisance, it’s really good. The way they went about it shows we can make changes and still be a very good force.
“I’m very pleased with the three points today.”
County kept their second successive away league clean sheet in Merseyside and Flynn was so pleased to achieve that specifically for Joe Day.
The County shot stopper celebrated his 200th competitive appearance for the Exiles during the game, 177th in League Two, and Day looked as composed as ever between the sticks.
Flynn commented on that achievement: “It’s brilliant for Joe.
“Clean sheet for him on the 200th appearance. He deserves that, and I said that in the press conference on Wednesday.
“It’s great to see that he’s got what we all wanted for him.”
Surprisingly, Mark O’Brien and Antoine Semenyo both made their inaugural league starts for County during the game.
And Flynn placed on record his praise for the duo for slotting into the team so smoothly and echoed those sentiments for the substitutes brought on during the game for doing the same.
“I thought Mark was excellent today,” he stated.
“I thought the three at the back was immense but the whole team was good. It was nice to see Mark back in the team, and we kept a clean sheet.
“I think it was Antoine’s first league start as well. He started in the Carabao Cup but it was his first league start and I’m sure it won’t be his last.
“For Jamille, It’s always tough for a player when they come on with 15 minutes to go, it takes you a while to find your feet and get your lungs going.
“Josh also came in, he was disappointed not to start, but Matty Dolan was injured. We knew he was injured ten minutes before half-time so we just tried to keep him on there, he’s experienced so we knew we had to do that.
“They threw everything at it and they were excellent.”
Sheehan came on just after the hour mark for Dolan, who looked in discomfort before being withdrawn.
The Exiles were already missing David Pipe from the matchday squad, but Flynn was able to provide an update, saying: “Matty’s problem was his knee.
“Pipey was ill so we had to shuffle it around last night. We had to put Hats in with Pipey and Dan Butler had to have a room on his own.
“We didn’t want Buts getting ill as well. Hats is alright but that’s the reason we only had six substitutes.”
NEXT UP | It's Chelsea U21s in the Checkatrade Trophy on the 25th September.
AFTER THAT | We face Cambridge United at home.