Mike Flynn has told his Newport County AFC squad they have nothing to fear when they travel to face Championship outfit Middlesbrough in the Fourth Round of the Emirates FA Cup on Saturday.
A total of 58 places in the English pyramid will separate the sides before kick-off – yet 74 places were the difference when 2016 Premier League champions Leicester City came to Rodney Parade in the Third Round.
A herculean effort was required to see off the Foxes in a 2-1 victory – the first time County had knocked top-flight opposition from the competition in 55 years – and Flynn believes if his side raise their levels again on Teesside then they can get another favourable result.
Flynn affirmed: “Of course we can win – if anyone thinks we can’t then there’s no point them travelling.
“We’ve got to start bright and stick to our game plan. We’ve got to have the courage of our own convictions to pass the ball, move them about, and let’s hope that we create some good chances and take them.
“Of course we have to be on our game. It’s going to be a little bit different because it’ll be a physical battle, we’ll have to defend well from set-plays, pick up the second balls.
“Tony Pulis’ teams are always fit, strong, and Middlesbrough have a lot of good players. And Middlesbrough do play football. Tony sometimes get tarnished with a certain style of play, but he wins football matches.
“I’ve said it before but you only have to look at what’s happened to Stoke and West Brom since he’s left to see that, ultimately they’re both in the Championship now.”
Flynn hinted to it there, but it will be fellow Pill boy Tony Pulis in the dugout of Middlesbrough on Saturday.
Both Tony and his brother Ray played for County in the 1980s before moving on to new ventures, with the current Middlesbrough manager making 96 appearances for the Ironsides during his stint.
Since then, Tony has also gone on to forge an unbelievably successful management career across 10 different clubs, managing over 1,000 games in the process, and his achievements have been rewarded with a spot in the League Managers Association Hall of Fame.
The 61-year old will know all too well how important a run can be in the Emirates FA Cup having taken Stoke City all the way to the final in 2010/11, securing Europa League football in-spite of a 1-0 defeat to Manchester City.
Flynn said on his counterpart: “I’ve got the upmost respect for Tony but I’ll be trying to beat him on Saturday as he will with me.
“I’m sure he wants to keep me quiet as well but you have to look at the bigger picture for them because their ultimate goal is to get back in the Premier League and so it should be.
“We’ve shown on our day that we can upset the odds and do ourselves proud.
“I know Tony Pulis and he’ll take this seriously. He did the same against Peterborough and they beat them 5-0. He won’t be doing us any favours that’s for sure, he’s ruthless and like I’ve said, he’s a winner. It’s going to be interesting.”
He continued: “Myself and Tony haven’t had that much contact this week. Look, he’s professional and I’m professional.
“We’re opposition and we want to beat each other so there’ll be no friends this week - there’ll be no good luck messages or anything. After the game, I know he’ll look after us and he’ll make us feel very welcome whether it’s a win, loss or draw.
“That’s the kind of man Tony is. He’s driven, passionate, but he’s definitely not soft.”
The team will start the near 550-mile round trip on Thursday morning and gradually work their way up towards the Riverside and will train at the prestigious FA headquarters St George’s Park on early Friday afternoon.
Flynn explained: “We’re going up early so the boys can have a relaxed journey up to Middlesbrough. They’ll train Friday [at St George’s Park] and then we’ll make our way further up towards the hotel.
“It’s like any other away game then. It’s a 3pm kick-off on the Saturday and after Thursday, it’s normal preparation.”
He joked: “The build up has been alright until I just got out of my car this morning and fell on the floor when I slipped on a bit of ice!
“No seriously, it’s been very good. They had a really good session yesterday and it’s always nice going into a game like this on the back of a win [against Exeter on Saturday.]
“It’s gone alright so far but I’m not going to get too carried away because I’m sure something will happen before the game on Saturday.”
Newport County AFC’s record in Emirates FA Cup matches since Flynn took over has been nothing short of extraordinary.
They’ve only lost once in the competition under Flynn’s guidance and there’s no embarrassment in bowing out 2-0 to Tottenham Hotspur – the joint third most successful club in the competition – at Wembley in the replay after a 1-1 draw at Rodney Parade.
The magnificent victory over Leicester City follows other wins against Championship outfit Leeds United, Walsall of League One, League Two’s Cambridge United and non-league Wrexham AFC and Met Police FC.
Flynn stated: “The boys have kept on making sure games like this are not just one-offs. They deserve all the credit that I can give them and I’m sure they’re getting it from the supporters as well with what they’ve done in the last year / 15 months in the FA Cup.
“It’s been a phenomenal set of results and we’re going to go to Middlesbrough and give it our best shot. It’s going to be really tough because we haven’t got the advantage this time of the home crowd, the home comforts and we’ve got to travel.
“But it’s just a football pitch with two goals and 22 players.”
In terms of team-news for the contest, Flynn was able to provide an update on some of his players that missed the victory over Exeter City last weekend – County’s first three-point haul in League Two since 27th November.
He added: “There’s a couple who are struggling and I’ll pick the team who I think can get us a result up at Middlesbrough.
“Fraser Franks is not fit, I’ll give you that one, so he’s out.
“Andrew Crofts needs more training as well so he’s not one I’m thinking of starting either.
“It’s going to be a really tough game, but we’ll give it a go.”
Currently in the County ranks is midfielder and former Middlesbrough youth player Matty Dolan, who will for a change, probably see this as more of a home game in terms of location of friends and family.
Confirming himself that ’30 or 40’ family or friends will be in the County end at the Riverside, Dolan spent around 13 years on the books at Boro and grew up within about 15 miles of the stadium.
On Dolan’s availability, Flynn added: “Look, fair play to Matty because he’s not been fully fit for a number of weeks and it’s very frustrating for him because he doesn’t want to miss anything.
“I want Matty to get fully fit or as close to 100% as he can be to go out and get back to his level. Saying that, I thought he played excellently against Leicester so it’s food for thought.”
Need any more reasons to get excited for this Emirates FA Cup Fourth Round encounter?
CLICK HERE to find out five reasons why County and Middlesbrough are closer connected than you’d initially think.