Mike Flynn has warned his Newport County AFC players that if they want to be occupying the play-off positions come May then they must pick up points against the teams currently in the top-seven and that starts tomorrow against a resurgent MK Dons.
Four of the next six matches come against sides who still harbour ambitions of contesting the play-offs in the close season – two at home and two away – so there’s no better time for the Exiles to bridge the six-point gap on the teams above them.
Standing in their way of making it back-to-back victories in League Two for the first time since late September will be an MK Dons side who have recently got themselves back in the hunt for the automatic promotion places.
Following victory at Rodney Parade against the Exiles 10 days ago, Paul Tisdale’s side backed up that performance with a victory away at Carlisle United last Saturday to put them fourth and two points off the top three.
County hit the woodwork four times against MK Dons in a game they somehow didn’t win – and Flynn has tasked his players with trying to rewrite the wrongs from that game to secure an impressive away victory.
“MK Dons are a very good team,” he affirmed.
“We outplayed them not so long ago, but they beat us, so it goes to show how mentally tough they are because they kept going until the end.
“They then went and backed it up [victory at Rodney Parade] with a result at Carlisle United.
“They’ve had a good week and they’re right up there in the battle for the automatic promotion push as well.
“They’ll be full of confidence, trying to do the double over us, and we’ll be trying to avenge what we felt was a tough one to take not so long ago.
“Put it this way, I don’t care if I’m that manager come 5:50pm on Saturday who is sat by Paul Tisdale saying ‘you battered us today, I don’t know how we got the three points.’
“I wouldn’t mind that.”
He continued: “There’s going to be times when that happens [win games against the run of play.]
“Look, I always try and be honest, we got a point up at Bury FC and I thought they battered us for 75 minutes. They were excellent, very good team, probably the best team we’ve played this season and we got a point.
“That showed our character and our strengths that we dug in and held on. As it happened, we could have won it at the end too.
“It works in roundabouts but now we need to push on and go back-to-back wins.”
The Exiles don’t need much more motivation than the commanding 4-1 victory at basement boys Notts County in midweek which arrested some difficult months on the road in League Two.
A magnificent team performance gave them their first three-point haul on the road in League Two since September 22nd and Flynn now wants the side to push on and replicate that performance.
He said: “It was a fantastic performance, made even better on the back of the Man City game. It ends a poor run on the road, and I think it was about time we got the result that our performances [away from home] deserved.
“I’ll be honest with you, it wasn’t something we paid too much attention to [the winless away run] until maybe a Friday or a Monday when it was written in the press and things like that.
“Because the performances have been decent, it was one of them that we knew we wouldn’t be too far away. If we were going places and losing 2-0, 3-0 – not creating anything and getting outplayed then that's when I would have got really concerned.
“It’s credit to the players, credit to the staff, that we got on with it and turned it around.”
Some would argue that County struggled to cope last season with the exertion and fight taken out of them during what was another unbelievable Emirates FA Cup run.
What looked to be a certain play-off finish ended up fizzling out into a battle just to finish top-half – but Flynn feels the side are more adapted to cope with fighting on two fronts this time around.
He explained: “You only have to look at last season following the Spurs games, we didn’t score a goal in February, never mind win.
“We’ve already bettered that, so it tells me the mentality of the players is right, their physical condition is right, and we just need to keep going now and grinding out results until the end of the season.”
He stated: “I can’t remember as good a times at Newport in the Football League and so it should be.
“With the fantastic support we had at the Man City game and other games as well, it’s created that buzz around the city.
“It’s not just at the football club, it’s everywhere you go and believe me, there’s a lot of different types of people coming up to you as well, congratulating you, and saying how important it was for the city. For me, that’s a very pleasing thing.
“It’ll feel ten times better if we manage to finish on a high and get close or in the play-offs. Then it’s an unbelievable season instead of just a good one.”
Part of the reason that County have had this impressive season has been the form of strike-duo Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt, who now have 37 goals between them across all competitions.
Matt got two on Tuesday night to take his individual tally to 17, before he laid a superb cross on a plate for Amond to take him to 20 for the campaign.
Flynn remarked: “Jamille lost a tooth [against Notts County], not quite sure what happened but let’s just say it was an off-the-ball incident.
“Look, he did his talking on the pitch – maybe with a bit of a lisp because his tooth had fallen out – but it was a great way to bounce back.
“I was about to say that his goal bonus would pay for the new tooth. He’s onto a winner!
“I did get a bit of stick for bringing Jamille in because he hadn’t really scored – it’s brilliant because he’s got 17 now and he’s still going.
“He’s loving his football and it’s not just his goals, he’s been fantastic for us – the work rate he gets through, how he is with his teammates, he’s the right kind of player who I wanted to bring to the football club.
“He had a couple of niggles throughout pre-season, maybe confidence was a little bit short, but I had a good chat with him. I told him that I had brought him here for a reason, to play, to score goals. I believe in you. Stop putting pressure on yourself.
“That’s what he’s done.”
In terms of team-news for the Exiles moving forward, Flynn confirmed captain Andrew Crofts continues to be unavailable through a calf complaint, whilst also providing an update on the walking wounded from midweek.
He confirmed: “Joss will have a scan today and then we’ll know how he is. I don’t think he’ll be available for MK Dons so that’s a blow because I was starting to think he was getting back to his all-action best.
“I think with Joss, it’s more of an awareness of a sore area but that could lead to a hamstring strain, which is why we’re being careful and we’ll weigh it up.
“I said it when Joss was coming back, it’s not just overcoming the physiological side of the knee injury, it’s about being fully ready and being able to handle the vigorous nature of League Two.
“We’ve managed it quite well and I was hoping to take Joss off a little bit earlier on Tuesday but I thought it was important for him to get another 90 minutes under his belt.
“Ade Azeez is back training now so we’ll have to think of the best time to put him in.”