Mike Flynn says he understands that it will take a monumental effort to get past Middlesbrough in the Emirates FA Cup tonight but has fully backed his squad to go out and achieve a favourable result.
Despite the 1-1 draw at the Riverside ten days ago, the Championship side will still be favourites in the Fourth Round Replay at Rodney Parade – especially after a statement away win on the weekend.
But since Flynn took charge of the Exiles on 9th March 2017, he’s never tasted defeat at home in this competition – holding Tottenham Hotspur to a draw and beating Leeds United, Leicester City, Cambridge United, Walsall and Wrexham AFC.
And Flynn says County will have to replicate those kinds of performances if they are to add Middlesbrough to the list of recent scalps.
Flynn affirmed: “They’re very good away from home. They’ve just gone to West Brom and won 3-2. They’re littered with quality players and they’re a very talented team.
“They’ve got a big game on Saturday – an early kick-off against Leeds. If they win that they’re right in the mix to get back into the Premier League and that’s obviously their main goal.
“But I know Tony Pulis and he’ll want to win it all so I’m not expecting a weakened team.
“I can’t affect that. I hope he does rest a few but I’m sure he will bring a squad and pick a team that he thinks can beat us.
“And they should beat us. They’re big favourites but, as we’ve shown before, if we turn up and play to our capabilities, we’re a match for anyone on our day.
“Tony Pulis wasn’t happy with the last-minute goal they conceded and another game in their busy schedule but he thought we were very good and said ‘well done’ for the way we played.
“It’s sandwiched in between two massive games for them against rivals in the top six and he could have done without it, that’s for sure.”
The match is a sell-out at Rodney Parade for the second successive round and Flynn believes that just goes to show how important the Emirates FA Cup is to teams in the Football League.
He continued: “It’s fantastic. It’s great that people are coming out to support us and I think there’ll be a few stubs kept if we win because it will mean they get priority for the Man City game.
“Let’s just hope we give them some more special memories. I know it will be a great atmosphere. The fans love the big occasion and they will get behind us. It’ll be a special atmosphere.”
The game will go all the way to a penalty shootout if necessary and Flynn says he’s had the players practising.
County don’t have the best of records in shootouts in recent years – losing 7-6 to Cheltenham Town in this season’s CheckaTrade Trophy and falling to Swindon Town by the same scoreline in September 2015.
Flynn continued: “We will practise, like we have done for previous cup ties – everyone will be taking penalties in training.
“A lot of the time it comes down to who is feeling confident. I’d much rather somebody put their hand up than somebody who doesn’t really back themselves. I’m hoping it doesn’t come to that.
“I don’t want a penalty shootout. I want to win in 90 minutes. We’ve got a big game on Saturday, so we need all our energy for that as well.”
The carrot has metaphorically been dangled ahead of tonight’s crucial encounter against Middlesbrough – with the victors knowing that a home time against reigning Premier League champions Manchester City is the prize on offer.
“If it was away it would be no incentive!” Flynn joked.
“I text Mikel Arteta when the draw came out and said ‘thank God if we do get through it’s at our place, because if it was away I would have been ill!’
“You saw what they did to Arsenal – some of the goals they score are unbelievable.
“But I’m not even thinking about that. We’re playing against a top Championship team and I just hope we do ourselves proud and get a positive result, because it’s absolutely huge for the football club.”
If County were to get through, it would give Flynn the opportunity to lock horns with one of the very best in the managerial game – Pep Guardiola.
“I’ll start imagining that at about 10pm on Tuesday, if we win,” Flynn stated.
“This could end up like Bullseye – it might be like Bully’s special prize – look what we could have won - it might be one of them.
“If you start getting carried away, you’ll see the speedboat floating away and you end up with a rubber dinghy. It’ll be an exciting moment if the impossible becomes possible.
“But I’m not thinking about Manchester City. I’ve got too much respect for Tony Pulis and for Middlesbrough, and I’m not an idiot.
“All I’m thinking about is Middlesbrough.”
Some early team-news ahead of the game sees Flynn confirm Joe Day is available for the fixture – despite the fact his partner Lizzie still hasn’t given birth to their twin daughters.
“He’s training and he’s available, no matter what,” Flynn confirmed.
“Joe’s made himself available. It was a little bit worrying the other week when he wasn’t available, because it wasn’t what they had planned.
“It was unexpected and they had no family over and family is the most important thing. But now there is family around and it’s a home game. Fingers crossed we get a good win and the twins come Wednesday morning.
“Something will happen this week, I’m sure. Let’s just hope it’s not tomorrow.
“Nick [Townsend] has done well, but I’ll be picking what I think is the best team to win the game.”
On further injury absentees, Flynn confirmed: “Scot Bennett’s fine. We’ll just see how he trains. He might be a little bit tired, but we’ll flush that out of him today.
“Fraser [Franks] told me last week that he’d be back training but I’m not too hopeful on that.
“I’m realistic and I think he probably needs to look more at Saturday or a week on Tuesday.”
On Andrew Crofts and Joss Labadie: “I don’t think we’ve really had that experienced midfield all season because of injuries.
“And you need that, especially away from home to kill a game off and know when to put your foot on the ball, when to waste time, when to up the tempo.
“It’s good that we’ve got people back now who should be able to do that.”