Newport County AFC manager Michael Flynn says up to 17 teams have what it takes to make the League Two play-offs come the end of the season in what he feels will be the most competitive fourth tier for some time.
The Exiles will be hoping to go one step further than their play-off final heartache in May and start the campaign tomorrow against bookies promotion favourites Mansfield Town at Rodney Parade.
It’s an extremely tough beginning to the campaign for County but Flynn is relishing the prospect of defying the odds again by securing a good start.
He affirmed: “I want to start well; I want to beat Mansfield as I want to beat everybody we play. We know that won’t happen because I don’t think any team has ever won all 46 games in League Two.
“Realistically we want to look at the areas we can improve. But I’m under no illusions that Mansfield will be there or thereabouts at the end of the season.
“The players know what we expect of them and it’s a real tough start. It’s going to be a tough six weeks to be honest but if we come out with a few wins then hopefully we can then kick on.
“I expect my players to work hard for the shirt, I expect them to push each other day in day out in training because I think we’ve got a stronger squad this year.
“And I expect them to carry out everything I’ve asked of them. They’re a fantastic group, the team spirit is really good and hopefully we can kick off another successful league campaign.
“But we know it’s going to be tough because the league itself has improved drastically. Gary Bowyer will do a really good job at Bradford City, Ryan Lowe will do well at Plymouth Argyle. We saw Keith Curle and Northampton Town over in Spain and they look strong.
“I think there are realistically 16 or even 17 teams who will be looking for the top seven.”
It has become almost a formality that County open up a campaign against the Stags, having done so in two of the past three seasons and three times in the past eight campaigns.
County secured a 4-3 victory at The One Call Stadium in 2012/13, a season of promotion for both sides, while Mansfield won 3-2 on opening day in 2016/17 and 3-0 12 months ago.
Flynn added: “Obviously, it’s going to be a tough game. They’ll be one of the favourites to go up which will give us a good benchmark to see where we are.
“Mansfield won’t have forgotten [last season’s play-off semi-final] but it won’t have any outcome on tomorrow’s result. They’ll obviously want to put the record straight, but last season has gone.
“It’s all about this season and we want to try and have as good a start as we can.”