Mike Flynn couldn’t contain his pride towards his Newport County AFC squad as a resolute team performance ensured they kept up their impressive recent form at Rodney Parade with a 1-0 victory over League Two high-flyers Mansfield Town.
The Stags had only lost twice in their previous 24 league fixtures but the Exiles weren’t afraid of that statistic and were pretty comfortable throughout – excluding the opening 30 seconds when Mansfield striker Nicky Ajose really should have converted a CJ Hamilton cross.
It cannot be underestimated just how hard assistant manager Wayne Hatswell works on set-pieces and this was how County got their joy all afternoon, including the match winner on 15 minutes.
This particular corner-kick routine was one that has been implemented by the Exiles on occasion already this season, but Mansfield clearly hadn’t done their homework as it worked a treat for County this time around.
Dan Butler’s drilled ball went in towards Padraig Amond, the Irishman flicked it back towards the edge-of-the-area for an awaiting Robbie Willmott to take a touch and smash into the centre of the goal.
County continued to threaten from set-pieces and had a goal ruled out for offside just before the break after Jamille Matt was adjudged to have gone too quickly before his flick-on set-up Joss Labadie.
In the second half, a truly awful injury to Stags striker Danny Rose put a dampener on proceedings and neither side mustered too much more from there after a clash of heads which resulted in 11 minutes additional time.
Matt was impressively kept out by Nottingham Forest loanee Jordan Smith on 77 minutes, but the points were already secured regardless – and Flynn was in no doubt about how important the victory was for the team.
“That’s the most satisfying win of the season,” he affirmed.
“People probably won’t believe that with the Leicester and Middlesbrough results but as a group of professional footballers and lads, for me, what they have gone and done today in fighting and not giving up – that’s the most satisfying victory of the season.
“Tuesday night against Middlesbrough was hard on the legs, the pitch was heavy, and mentally it was a lot for them. That’s why this result is big for me.”
He added: “They are a funny breed. We don’t get too carried away when we win and we don’t get too down when we lose.
“They frustrate the life out of me, but they also make me very, very proud and I’ll never get tired of saying that. That performance there was first-class. It was professional, it was resilient, it was good, and I thought the boys were excellent.
“I thought the boys defended excellently when they needed to and I’m just over the moon to get the three points.”
Mansfield were previously the side in the division to have lost the least amount of games in League Two but now join Lincoln City on four defeats.
Before heading to Rodney Parade, only one of those defeats had come away from home – a five-goal thriller at Carlisle United – and some of their play in the middle third was quite simply breath-taking.
But you’re not dangerous away from the attacking positions and they couldn’t transpire that kind of play to around the County area, such was the defensive brilliance from the side – and Regan Poole in particular.
You could see why the Stags are currently in the automatic promotion places and looking good to finish there – and Flynn was under no illusions of his opinion that Mansfield will get promoted.
He stated: “I thought Mansfield played some good stuff in the first-half. A couple of their attacks in the first 20 minutes when they were doing one twos around the box were impressive.
“I’ve just said to the boys that Mansfield will go up. I’m not trying to put extra pressure on David Flitcroft, he works hard, but they’ll go up.
“They’ve got strength, good mentality, quality players so if they don’t go up then I don’t know much about football.
“I really think they’ll go up – and I hope they do because I don’t like going there.
“I don’t know about being in control from the offset because Mansfield nearly broke a record for scoring in the first five seconds.
“If that had gone in then it would have been a totally different game and you can’t start games like that. That’s my only bad point from ourselves, I hope Danny Rose is okay as well because that didn’t look too good.
“It looks like he might have broken his jaw and it did disrupt things after that. I just hope he’s all right.”
He hadn’t scored a goal before Tuesday but now Willmott has two straight from the top drawer and they wouldn’t look out of place in the top-level of the game.
Not a bad way then for Willmott to celebrate signing his new two-year contract with the club and Flynn again paid homage to the intricacy of another unbelievable set-piece goal.
“I thought it was a great strike.” Flynn continued.
“But the block from Joss Labadie was even better. It wasn’t an illegal block, you can get blocks where they’re pulling your shirt and things like that, but it was nothing like that.
“Joss stood his ground and the Mansfield player couldn’t get around him.
“It was well planned and like I said, we work very hard to try and get a little advantage and thankfully it’s coming off at the moment. It’s what we deserve.
“Robbie is a good player and that’s why we extended his contract. I’ve said before that I try to bring in the right players, believe it or not I do know my stuff. It’s brilliant.”
There’s no rest for County as the games continue to come quick and fast and they host another play-off hopeful in MK Dons at Rodney Parade on Tuesday night.
“It’s going to be a tough game,” Flynn affirmed.
“MK Dons are another one with the bigger budgets, but they won’t enjoy coming to Rodney Parade.
“I don’t know [on potential changes] because I’ll have to look how they are.
“I’m not too bothered about Saturday to be honest – I know it sounds silly but I’m not too bothered about Saturday because it’s a free hit, nobody expects us to win.
“It’s a one-off, a unique thing and I’ll put out the team which are ready to go and win the game on Tuesday.
“If that means it’s the same team then it’ll be the same team.”
If Flynn was to make changes on Tuesday night, the likely candidates for an inclusion would be January deadline day signings Ben Kennedy, Ade Azeez and Harry McKirdy.
Only McKirdy is eligible for the Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round clash with Manchester City but in any case, he’d probably benefit from a runout before being thrown in at the deep end of a game of that magnitude.
“I might have to freshen it up,” Flynn confirmed.
“Ade will be available, Fraser is available again and Harry might be available as well.
“As long as I feel they are up to speed on Monday, they’ll all come in to contention.
“If we have to make a few changes then we’ll make a few changes. I want to win the game on Tuesday because what better feeling is there to go into the Man City game than winning three in a row.
“That would be a good starting block to go and play the current Premier League champions and all the other things they’ve won.
“It’s relentless and if anyone does come in then they’ll have to do the business like the boys have done in this one.”
NEXT UP | The home games don’t ease up for the Exiles as the rearranged fixture with MK Dons has been set for 12th February 2019. Buy tickets online now.
AFTER THAT | County have the mammoth task of trying to topple current Premier League champions Manchester City in the Emirates FA Cup Fifth Round. Click here for the latest ticket news.
ON THE ROAD | The next away fixture for the Exiles is in midweek as they travel to take on Notts County on 19th February 2019. Ticket information to be released soon.