Mike Flynn hailed an excellent team performance as Newport County AFC made the race for the League Two play-offs even more interesting by closing the gap to five points with a 2-0 victory over Carlisle United.
Assistant manager Wayne Hatswell hinted during Friday’s press conference that nine wins would be required to have any chance of the top-seven, but realistically, they had to be wins against the sides currently above County in the table and they got their statement victory following a heroic display.
It was always going to take something special for Flynn to get his first win over the Cumbrians – he’s managed against them on four previous occasions but drawn two and lost two – and County were first-class from the first whistle to the last in a dominant performance.
January signing Ade Azeez came in for his home debut and first start after a cameo substitute appearance last time out and he embodied everything that was good about the team with a livewire attitude and an insistence on making things happen.
The striker capped off his inaugural appearance at Rodney Parade with the opener after 14 minutes – instinctively reacting to Padraig Amond’s flick-on to tap home from two yards after a well-worked corner-kick routine.
Carlisle goalkeeper Adam Collin made two terrific saves to keep his side in it and thwart Azeez a second then also turn a Jamille Matt attempt away, Padraig Amond hit the post, but County weren’t far away from another and sealed the points with another on 67 minutes.
Josh Sheehan’s clever delivery caused confusion in the penalty area, away captain Danny Grainger tried to pass the ball back to his goalkeeper, but Amond had read his intentions and snuck in to stab home his 21st of the campaign.
Such was the defensive resilience from County that they limited much of what Carlisle had to offer – and even when they did get through, Joe Day was there to thwart everything including Stefan Scougall’s low drive and Grainger’s penalty two minutes from time.
That meant County had all three points and a well-deserved clean sheet – but it was goals that best pleased Flynn post-match, especially as they both came from the Hatswell book of well-crafted set-piece routines.
He affirmed: “We do our work on how we can exploit the opposition and I thought we were excellent. We probably should have taken one or two of the other chances as well.
“When it’s 1-0 at half-time and you’ve missed three or four good chances, you start thinking whether you'll regret it. Then they have the penalty at the end – great save again by Joe and without it, it could have been an interesting last five minutes.”
“I thought they were brilliant,” he continued.
“Carlisle in the first-half created one or two chances, from our own mistakes mind, and they’re not a bad team. They play some very good football, good young manager and they’ve got some very, very good players.
“This was an important win and it’s the first time I’ve won against Carlisle as a manager.”
The statement victory over the side sitting in the spot below the play-offs ahead of kick off makes it very interesting in the hunt for the top-seven come the end of the campaign.
With results going their way, County have decreased the gap ever more to just the five points with a game in hand, and the Exiles still have to play five of the teams above them before May.
“I’ll always be hopeful,” Flynn remarked.
“But we’ve got to go back-to-back now and win a few games in a row. I’m not getting carried away, we’ve got two tough away games coming up.
“Colchester are good at home, Northampton have hit some good form. They’re both tough games and if somebody would have offered me three points from the six, I’d probably take it to be honest.”
Azeez’s performance was certainly one of the reasons County can now almost touch the play-offs and it was certainly a home debut to remember for the 25-year old.
“He did take his chance,” Flynn confirmed.
“I know he’s going to frustrate the life out of me at times but he’s so threatening and he’s getting used to us. We haven’t had as much time to train because it’s mostly been Saturday-Tuesday-Saturday-Tuesday games.
“It’s been tough for him to come in, he’s been injured, so I’m very pleased for him.”
Every single player in the starting line-up and also the substitutes worked themselves into the ground for the team – but Flynn wanted to put on his record his appreciation for the performance of one player in particular.
“It was an outstanding performance from Jamille Matt,” he stated.
“He didn’t sleep at all last night – his partner [Grace] was in the hospital last night so I was thinking about leaving him out.
“What he’s done there, the shift he’s put in and the quality of him just shows what kind of person he is. I’m buzzing for him because he was absolutely superb.”
The only down side from an otherwise perfect display was the injury sustained to Matty Dolan in the middle of the first-half.
“Matty was hamstring,” Flynn admitted.
“The midfield has killed us this season. Too many players out from that area and they’re experienced players too – Labadie, Crofts, Dolan, Bennett.
“It’s tough because we were pretty lightweight in there. Second half I thought they were excellent mind.
“Jamille was stiffening up so I took him off as well. As I said, I was going to leave him out altogether – it’s a credit to him the shift he’s gone and put in.
“Joss Labadie will need a few stitches in his head because he’s like a caged animal. I thought he was excellent – the balls he broke up, the runs he made, and he should have scored too. Brilliant.”
ON THE ROAD | It’s the long trip to Essex for yet another clash with a top-seven side as County take on Colchester United on 9th March. Tickets can be purchased here or from the club shop.
AFTER THAT | The away trips don’t get much shorter as it’s a Tuesday trip to Northampton Town on 12th March 2019. Ticket information to be released on all club channels soon.
ON PARADE | County return to Rodney Parade for ‘Friday night football’ when hosting Cheltenham Town on 15th March 2019. Buy tickets here and pack the Parade.