Michael Flynn heaped praise on Newport County AFC’s never-say-die attitude as Jamille Matt struck a priceless equaliser with three minutes remaining to secure a 1-1 draw at Morecambe and a place in the League Two play-offs.
Heading into the final minutes at the Globe Arena, County were 10th in the as-live table and looking likely to be spending next season in the fourth tier until Matt popped up to cause sheer pandemonium in the away end full of 871 supporters.
Dan Butler’s floated delivery from a short throw-in was headed back across the face of goal and Matt used his striker’s instinct to read the play to perfection and tap home into an empty net.
Flynn’s tenure has been littered with late heroics – just think Middlesbrough away in the Emirates FA Cup or Notts County in the Great Escape – but this might just be the best of the lot.
Late drama inherently means County spent much of the afternoon out of the play-off positions and the cause wasn’t helped by falling behind on 20 minutes to the game’s first real attack.
Steve Old’s clearance turned into an unbelievable pass for former Exile academy graduate Aaron Collins to take a touch and strike into the bottom left corner.
It appeared for long spells that it wasn’t going to be County’s day, Josh Sheehan denied three times by Mark Halstead, but that all changed with Matt’s divine intervention at the end.
Who would have it any other way?
Flynn affirmed: “Look, it wasn’t the best performance but getting the result and getting into the play-offs was all that mattered.
“I can’t fault my players. Even if we didn’t do it, this bunch of players are still absolutely fantastic.
“It’s a joy to come in every day and work with them and I’m not just saying that. I really mean it.
“You can see the bond we’ve got; it’s how I want to be. I want players who give their all for this football club and give their all for me as a manager.
“We were outplayed second-half. Morecambe had a lot of chances and for whatever reason, we just weren’t at it at all.
“To get that goal right at the end is all down to the boys’ attitude and belief because they’ve got that never say die attitude. They kept going and because of that, they’ve got their just rewards and we’ve made it to the play-offs.”
In addition to being one of the most important goals of his career, Matt also brought up an important milestone for his debut Exiles campaign.
“It’s his 20th goal of the season which is unbelievable,” Flynn explained.
“I told him I’d get him scoring when I was trying to sign him, and he actually said he’d get 20. And he did. He’s been true to his word and he’s been fantastic.”
The plaudits will rightfully be taken by Matt for the goal, but it would have been an insignificant one had it not been for another stellar display from Joe Day.
On 65 and then again on 67 minutes, the Exiles shot stopper thwarted Collins adding to his tally with magnificent saves after Morecambe had carved right through the pitch.
Flynn admitted: “Aaron Collins could have scored a hat-trick if it wasn’t for Joe Day keeping us in it.
“We were poor. I always try and be as honest as I can be with you and we weren’t very good.
“We got into some really good positions first-half but just wasted them. In the second-half, we got cut open way too easy which was maybe the desperation of trying to chase a goal.”
Flynn also wanted to pay tribute to the supporters who travelled en masse to The Globe Arena to support the team in the quest for the top-seven.
“It’s an absolutely fantastic following,” he stated.
“They were unbelievable all game, they didn’t stop, and I’ll be honest and say that it must have been demoralising for them all at times.
“Everything was going against us and we were poor.
“They roared us all on and every time we had a corner or a throw-in, they were roaring that loud I thought Forest Green must have scored. They were that loud.
“It was a fantastic effort from the crowd.”
The Exiles will now face Mansfield Town in the play-offs with the first leg at Rodney Parade on Thursday night before heading to Nottinghamshire for a 6pm kick-off on Sunday.
Flynn admitted: “It’s going to be a very tough tie. Mansfield are a very good team full of good players, so we’ll have to be at our best on Thursday then Sunday.
“They’re a fantastic group of players and whatever happens now, it’s been a fantastic season.
“But we’re going into those play-offs trying to win them.
“None of the teams were going to be easy. But we’re not going to be easy for any of them either.
“It’s going to be a very difficult game for both teams.
“We’re in there now and it’s an absolute no-lose situation for us. It’s a fantastic achievement and I am so proud that we’ve reached 71 points and finished 7th in the league.”
It’s no secret that Flynn wrote down at the start of the season what his aims for the campaign were.
The season is not yet over so he still won’t reveal what those hopes were for the time being, but he would say: “I’d have bitten your hands off for this.
“Honestly, you don’t realise what we do day in day out and how we come together as a group.
“We’ve got a formula and a group of lads who play above their means more often than not. We’ve got a board who are very supportive and try to help out.
“And we’ve got a fantastic group of fans who are the core of this football club.”