Newport County AFC assistant manager Wayne Hatswell admits it’s probably going to take ‘nine or ten’ victories for the Exiles to bridge the gap on the play-offs and continue their season past May 4th.
As it stands, the Exiles are eight points off Forest Green Rovers and Colchester United in 7th and 6th place in the League Two table respectively but do crucially have a game in hand as well.
It’s a smaller gap than the one during the ‘Great Escape’ in 2017 and there’s also more time in which to do it this time around – there were 11 points between County and safety and they only had 12 games remaining.
Going through that experience means County are familiar with being the ‘hunter’ as opposed to the ‘hunted’ and Hatswell has refused to rule out the possibility of finishing in the top-seven.
“We want to finish the season strong,” he affirmed.
“There’s a lot of points to play for, we’ve got to play near enough the top seven at home, and it is a fortress for us.
“We need to make sure we pick up points at home and then hopefully in the away games, the momentum from the home games mean we can go to places like Northampton and Colchester and nick a result that will give everyone a lift.
“We looked at it and targeted nine wins [before the MK Dons game] so that will stay the same.
“Seven of the games are at home and we’ve got a lot to play for. We’ve got to hang in there and see where we end up.
“If we do miss out on the play-offs then rest assured, we’d have given it a good try.”
He continued: “We’re at the bottom of the play-off pack so no-one [outside the club] probably thinks we can get there.
“We’ve got to keep believing that we will and of course we believe that.
“It would just round off a really good time for the club and kick us on for next season.
“It’s the business end of the season and you want to be going right to the wire – that’s what we want to try and achieve really. We just want to stay in there and give ourselves a fighting chance.
“We’re optimistic but also realistic – we need to put back-to-back wins together and probably actually get three of four on the trot.”
The first up in the remaining 13 fixtures will be a Carlisle United side who have just dropped out of the play-off positions themselves although a victory could take them as high as fifth.
In the reverse fixture at Brunton Park, County fought back from 2-0 down to level proceedings late on, but Cumbrian captain Danny Grainger broke Exiles hearts in stoppage time with a thunderbolt into the top corner.
Hatswell said: “Carlisle beat us at their place [in November] and it was a blow that day. We got back into the game at 2-2 and then Danny Grainger scored an absolute worldie for them.
“We want to try and take our points back which we lost up there.
“Carlisle seemed to have picked up where they left off when John Sheridan left, and they are going to be worried about us."
For the first time in five weeks, County were afforded a midweek break from league or cup competition and that allowed a sustained period of rest and relaxation.
“It’s been most needed [a midweek break] because we’ve had a tough run of games of late," Hatswell said.
“I think it was good that we gave them all Monday off and they came back in on Tuesday in good spirits. I think it’s a bit of both [physical and mental tiredness.]”
But now County are back in competitive action, they will have the opportunity to bounce back from defeat to MK Dons last time out – when the Buckinghamshire outfit made it two wins in 11 days against the Exiles.
“How we didn’t score over the two games against MK Dons, I do not know,” Hatswell remarked.
“They scored from a set-piece which was disappointing from our point of view but hopefully we’ve learnt from that.
“I think it does show how far we’ve come when we’re disappointed not to score against one of the teams with the bigger budgets in the league.
“Paul Tisdale’s teams are a bit of a bogey team for me really. It doesn’t matter how hard we work, we never seem to beat them.
“Apart from the ‘Great Escape’ season win down there that was about it really. He’s always been a lucky manager against us.”
Despite the result in Buckinghamshire – Hatswell expects County to provide an apt response.
“We’ve still got a hell of a lot to play for and it’s in our hands,” he continued.
“We’ve got to go again and believe we can do it. All the clichés will come out, but we have to take it every game at a time. We’ve got to win our home games, pick up a couple of wins away from home which we are more than capable of doing.
“You need a bit of luck as well but we’re tough to beat and we’ll have to start off with beating Carlisle United.”