Mike Flynn hailed an exceptional team performance as Newport County AFC caused the biggest shock of the Emirates FA Cup Third Round with a 2-1 victory against Premier League Leicester City at Rodney Parade.
A total of 74 places separated the sides before kick-off and after some heroic goalkeeping from Joe Day in the opening ten minutes, County took the lead with their first attack.
Jamille Matt’s layoff set Robbie Willmott down the right side, he beat Christian Fuchs through sheer pace and power, delivering an expert cross for Matt to rise above away captain Wes Morgan and power a header in off the far post.
Matty Dolan wasn’t too far away from doubling the advantage first through a free-kick then a shot from an expertly crafted corner-kick routine, but it was Leicester who finished the half strongest and Mickey Demetriou’s heroic defending kept out a Shinji Okazaki effort.
Marc Albrighton thumped an effort off the crossbar on 54 minutes as Leicester continued to push for an equaliser, but County weren’t planning on just soaking up the pressure and defending valiantly, they wanted more, and Padraig Amond went for an overhead kick after another perfect delivery from Willmott.
Leicester continued to carve out openings and the Premier League side did find their equaliser with just seven minutes remaining. Lovely interchange between Hamza Choudhury and Demarai Gray set James Maddison in on goal, his effort was superbly kept out by Day, but the clearance wasn’t enough and Rachid Ghezzal smashed home.
Other sides would have accepted a replay after a herculean effort to keep their opponents out, but County have a unique team-spirit and found a way to win the contest with 85 minutes on the clock.
Debutant Vashon Neufville’s delivery was handled by Albrighton in the penalty-area to give Amond the chance to be a hero again. He duly sent Danny Ward the wrong way from the spot – leaving Flynn ecstatic after a monumental team display.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” he affirmed.
“I feel extremely proud, I’m over the moon because it’s huge not just for me but the football club, the community, all the fans and the players.
“It was a real team effort and it’s something I’m really proud of, beating a Premier League team and coming up against Claude Puel was, for myself, an honour and something I’ll never forget.”
Not since 4th January 1964 had County knocked out a top-flight side from the Emirates FA Cup – defeating a Sheffield Wednesday side 3-2 who went on to finish sixth in the old First Division.
County had tried and failed to topple top-flight opposition in the previous seven games since that momentous day at Somerton Park – although no one could argue with holding a Harry Kane led Tottenham Hotspur to a draw last season.
“It had traits of the Tottenham game,” Flynn added.
“If you watch our first goal, it was a carbon copy of the one against Spurs – Robbie Willmott cross and this time it was Jamille Matt and not Padraig Amond.
“We created a few more chances after that and I think first-half we should have gone in more than 1-0 up. In saying that, Joe Day did make a good save in the first couple of minutes.
“Second half, I felt quite comfortable. There were more crosses from deep or long shots rather than Leicester splitting us open.
“Once they get back to 1-1, you do worry, you do think that you might have to hang on, but I actually said right lets go for it.
“I don’t know if the players heard me but thankfully they went down the other end and we got a penalty. Honestly, I’ve got so much faith in these players and I’ve got so much respect for them. I love coming in and working with them day in day out.
“But they don’t half frustrate me. We couldn’t beat a 10 man Stevenage on New Years Day, and it’s crazy how they can raise their levels and keep concentrated for 95 minutes against a team 7th in the Premier League.”
Alongside that victory over Sheffield Wednesday, County also upset the odds in 1948/49 – when they went furthest in the competition by getting to the Fifth Round – having defeated Huddersfield Town 3-1 away from home after a draw in the initial tie.
Looking away from the Emirates FA Cup, County have obviously had the success in the European Cup Winners Cup, a season in what is now the Championship, alongside several promotions since reformation in 1989.
Asked to reflect on where this result ranks in the history of the club, Flynn affirmed: “It’s got to be up there – I can’t think of many others.
“I might say I’m biased because that’s the first time I’ve beaten a Premier League manager as well.
“I’ll never forget this feeling – my wife and kids were here, and it was great to see so many football fans as well.”
It goes to show just how dignified a club Leicester City are that they had nothing but admiration and praise for County in their respective post-match press conferences.
Manager Claude Puel hailed County’s performance as ‘fantastic’ and captain Wes Morgan wished the Exiles luck for the remainder of the competition.
Flynn said when being told of the comments: “First of all, I think that goes to show what a class man Claude Puel is.
“Quite often you can have a lot of bitterness when you’ve been knocked out of the FA Cup to a smaller team, but like I said, they showed us a lot of respect with the substitutions they made as well.
“I can’t speak highly enough of Leicester City football club. They are a respectful club with a respectful manager, and when I spoke to a couple of the Leicester players, they wished us good luck in the next round.
“That’s a touch of class.”
Flynn made three changes to the side from the one that lost to Stevenage on New Year’s Day and handed Vashon Neufville his debut having only signed on loan at the club on Friday.
“If I’m totally honest, I think it was a little bit unfair of myself to put him in,” Flynn continued.
“Vashon trained one day and even then we didn’t really do too much on Saturday in terms of physical work – it was more preparation on the set pieces etc.
“I thought Vashon got better as the game went on. He’s just been thrown in at the deep end and fair play to him, he gave a good account of himself.”
Success in any cup competition brings with it the age-old question of what side you would like to face in the next round.
Once again, Flynn repeated the answer which he normally gives when the Premier League sides are involved – but he’ll have to also rely on the side he wants winning in their tie tonight.
He affirmed: “I’ll tell you now that I want Liverpool home or away – that’s what I want.
“I’d love to play against Liverpool, I’m a Liverpool fan but at the same time, I’ve got to think about what’s best for the football club and you’d have to say any of the big boys away.
“Hand on our heart, are we going to win the FA Cup? No, but we want to make as much money as we can out of it. That’s what I want for the football club.”
NEXT UP | The Exiles return to League Two action on 12th January 2019 when making the trip to take on Crewe Alexandra. Ticket details can be found here.
AT HOME | County return to Rodney Parade on 19th January 2019 when hosting play-off occupying Exeter City. Click here for match tickets.
AFTER THAT | County’s progression in the Emirates FA Cup means the away trip to Notts County will be postponed to make way for the Fourth Round Tie. Tune in to BBC One at around 10pm to see who County draw.