Mike Flynn says he has nothing but pride and admiration for his Newport County AFC squad after they made memories that will last a lifetime during an Emirates FA Cup run that was brought to an end with a 4-1 defeat to current Premier League champions Manchester City at Rodney Parade.
Many thought last season’s run to a Fourth Round replay with Tottenham Hotspur at Wembley could never be surpassed, but County are the new giantkillers of the competition and defeated Leicester City – the first time they had knocked top-flight opposition for 55 years – amongst others to reach the Fifth Round.
This was a step too far for the Exiles, however, as Citizens manager Pep Guardiola brought a team to South Wales that cost over half a billion to put together and quality eventually shone through as their quest for the quadruple continues.
County were excellent throughout, especially the first-half, and arguably created the contest’s best chance after 14 minutes when City goalkeeper Ederson had to make an unbelievable save to keep out a header from Tyreeq Bakinson.
Guardiola resisted the temptation to go to his bench at half-time and that was proven to be the right decision as they started to really crank up the pressure on the Exiles.
First, Leroy Sané saw his shot creep over the line on 51 minutes despite the best efforts of Joe Day in the County goal, before City’s future star Phil Foden picked up the ball inside his own half to run through and fire underneath the Exiles shot stopper with 15 minutes remaining.
County just don’t know how to give up, they’ll never throw in the towel, and they found a way from nothing to get back into the contest when Padraig Amond capitalised on an error from Aymeric Laporte to lob a stranded Ederson and all of a sudden, County had set up a grandstand finale.
It wasn’t to be, however, as Foden crashed home another just 71 seconds after Amond’s stunner, before Riyad Mahrez got the goal his performance deserved with the last kick of an enthralling contest.
“We’ve just come up against a very good football team,” Flynn affirmed.
“I’m very proud of the players, I thought they were outstanding, a little bit disappointed with the last two goals we conceded because when we got back into it at 2-1, you just want that one chance and we didn’t hold on at all after we scored.
“That’s the frustrating thing but it’s nothing but good thoughts and proud moments for the players.
“There’s nothing but happy memories from this game and getting to share the touchline with Pep Guardiola was magical for me.
“You try and learn new things all the time. What keeps resonating with me is their never say die attitude and their willingness to carry on and help the football club.
“That’s all I can ask for as a manager, yes we’re going to lose games along the way, but they haven’t half done themselves proud and played some really good football at times.”
Reflecting on the Emirates FA Cup adventure as a whole, Flynn continued: “There’s so many good memories for not just the football club but the fans who have come over.
“I keep going on about it, but I want to try and get back a generation of fans that we lost and I think we’re doing that. The atmosphere was electric, it was absolutely superb and you want to play in-front of that a lot more."
Dignified in defeat, Flynn couldn’t praise Manchester City more for their class and respect throughout the whole tie – and inviting County into their dressing room following the conclusion of the contest proved what a truly humble club they were.
On the Citizens, Flynn commented: “You expect to do a lot of running against Manchester City – they are such an excellent team, players are full of class, the manger is full of class and the rest of their staff have just invited our players into their changing room.
“That means a lot for any player, especially League Two players.
“Like I said, I can’t speak highly enough of Pep Guardiola and their players – this is why they are champions.
“Pep is a serial winner and I’ve said that before. He’s also full of respect, he’s shown us respect with the team he’s put out, he’s shown the FA Cup respect, and he’s shown their fans a lot of respect.
“They had to travel a long way to watch this, sometimes it doesn’t get said enough, and I’ve got no problem bigging up Pep Guardiola for showing his own fans and my football club respect.”
The matchday 18 brought down by Guardiola cost a combined £605.5 million - £332 million for the starting side and £273.5 million amongst the substitutes.
On his thoughts when he saw the team sheet, Flynn remarked: “I knew Sergio Aguero wasn’t here but then it was only Mahrez, Sane and Jesus to worry about.
“Then you add in Phil Foden who by the way, I thought he was absolutely superb. His movement, his off the ball movement made him almost impossible to mark.
“He’s got such a good career in-front of him, he’s going to be huge.”
Elimination from the Emirates FA Cup means County can now focus all their energy on trying to recapture a place amongst the League Two play-offs.
They’ve got 15 games in which to bridge the nine-point gap which has now opened up – but County do have two games in hand.
Flynn affirmed: “Look, we were outstanding on Tuesday night. We lost the game to [MK Dons] but they were outstanding.
“It’s frustrating but we’ve just got to put the points on the board and start planning for next season as well.
“Notts County have signed well in the January transfer window. They’ve got a huge wage bill so they’re able to do that, won two in a row now so it’s going to be difficult [on Tuesday night].”