Mike Flynn has challenged his Newport County AFC squad to build on the momentum gained from knocking top-flight opposition out of the Emirates FA Cup when trying to climb back up the League Two table.
The Exiles fell to 13th over the weekend when having to postpone the fixture with Port Vale in favour of the Leicester City tie at Rodney Parade, and currently trail Exeter City in the final play-off spot by seven points but have a game in hand.
On Saturday, County have the chance to kickstart their league campaign by travelling to a Crewe Alexandra side who trail them by four points and three places.
The Railwaymen have improved at home recently and took the scalps of Lincoln City and Stevenage at Gresty Road over the festive period.
And Flynn knows his own team will now have a target on their back having defeated top-flight opposition in the Emirates FA Cup for the first time in 55 years.
He said about Crewe: “They’re an up and down team. They started the season beating Morecambe 6-0, we lost 3-0 [at Mansfield Town], and Crewe had won the league and we were relegated.
“Then we beat them [the next weekend]. It’s a strange old world, football. It’s crazy.
“But it doesn’t count for anything now. We’ve got to go there and get the three points but it’s going to be tough because they’ve got some very good players.
“They’ll want to knock us off our perch, and I’d think the same thing. They’ll be saying ‘they think they’ve cracked it’ but we’ve got to be strong enough to handle that, and I think we will be.”
It is now important for County to keep on building momentum because the play-off dream is far from over at this stage of the season.
The Exiles have 11 games remaining at home, then another 10 away, and still have to play six of the teams occupying the top seven positions in the league table.
“We need to kickstart now and start putting some back-to-back wins together,” Flynn continued.
“If we do that then we’ll be very close, with a lot on momentum, going into the final three months of the season. It’s going to be tough, we’ll have a lot of games now Saturday Tuesday Saturday Tuesday because there’s three to be organised as well.
“Hopefully we have a lot better luck with injuries this second half of the season because I really do think that has hampered us.”
This renewed sense of optimism comes after one of the best results in the club’s history on Sunday when defeating 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City in-front of a sell-out crowd at Rodney Parade.
“I’m not getting carried away just because we’ve won a football match,” Flynn stated.
“It was a fantastic occasion, it was excellent for the football club and brilliant for people’s profiles and confidence. It was a perfect day, but it will make it even better if we go and get three points on Saturday.
“The last two games we should have had an extra five points. I wasn’t too disappointed by the performances, it was just a lack of ruthlessness in both boxes.
“We didn’t kill off Stevenage or Crawley. At least against Crawley we were solid and we got the clean sheet, and we should have done that at Stevenage.
“We could see it wasn’t our day in front of goal and we should have made sure we came away with at least a point.
“But we didn’t, and it was good that they were able to raise themselves and put in a good performance on Sunday.”
Discussing how County can replicate that herculean performance, Flynn added: “They’ve got to believe that they can compete with the big teams, and we’ve got to prepare them right and have the right game-plan.
“For example, if we’d gone with three at the back against Leicester, I think we would have been murdered out wide.
“I think they would have battered us. They had one up front. It was 4-3-3 but they were everywhere, they were like the Red Arrows. If we’d gone with wing-backs, we would have been murdered out wide.
“We did a similar thing against Colchester [in November]. They’re very strong down the wing on both sides and if we’d gone with wing-backs it would have played into their hands, so we changed it.
“We don’t always get it right. You need the players to carry out instructions and to back themselves as well, and that’s what they did on Sunday.
“They believed in themselves, they backed each other and they kept going. You saw the blocks they put in, the amount of running they covered. It was a good team performance.
“Now they’ve got to get that into their heads and take it into Saturday, and the rest of the season.”
Flynn’s press conference came roughly 36 hours after the Emirates FA Cup fourth round draw pitted County away at Championship outfit Middlesbrough.
The game will see County square off against a former Ironside as Middlesbrough manager Tony Pulis played 96 times for the club in the 1980’s.
Like Flynn, Pulis also originated from Pill – and Flynn is excited by the prospect of challenging himself against a man who has managed over 1,000 matches.
He commented: “We’ve had a few texts already and, funnily enough, I spoke to him last Friday because I was after a player. We had a good conversation then and Tony is as good as gold.
“He’s Newport born and bred, he’s played for the club, he went to the same high school as myself, we’re both from Pill, he’s still got the Newport twang, and I know his family – I know his brother Ray really well – so it’s nice.
“Tony is somebody I’ve always respected. I’ve played against one of his teams and now it will be good to lock horns as a manager against him.”