Manager Michael Flynn says Newport County AFC have ‘nothing to lose but everything to gain’ as they prepare to embark on their League Two semi-final ties with Mansfield Town.
The Exiles host the Stags in match one at Rodney Parade tomorrow night (19:45pm) before travelling to Nottinghamshire for the return leg on Sunday (18:00pm).
County head into the matches on a 10-game unbeaten run including six wins and four draws, while David Flitcroft’s men have lost their last three and missed out on automatic promotion on Saturday.
Mansfield are the bookies favourites to win the whole play-off campaign let alone this semi-final and Flynn is perfectly fine for them to have that pressure going into the post-season.
“I’m quite happy with Mansfield being the favourites,” Flynn affirmed.
“They finished fourth which was above us in the league table. They’ve got a very good group of players, an ambitious manager and a lot bigger budget than us.
“They rightfully go into the games as favourites and we go into the games with nothing to lose but everything to gain.
“It’s going to be down to us to upset the odds. There is absolutely no pressure on us whatsoever.
“We have already climbed a mountain getting into the play-offs. But we’re going into them to try and win.”
Both sides traded home wins in the 2018/19 campaign.
Mansfield started the campaign off with quite a comprehensive 3-0 victory on the opening day – debutants Tyler Walker and Otis Khan (twice) giving them all three points.
Robbie Willmott’s emphatic strike in February gave County the victory at Rodney Parade as neither side mustered a goal against the other away from home.
Reflecting on the two previous meetings this season, Flynn added: “On the day up there, we had one or two chances to get right back in the game. It wasn’t to be, and it was some poor defending from things we highlighted they were good at.
“To be fair to the boys, they haven’t done that too often this season and we won’t repeat that up there.
“But we’ve got the home game first and Rodney Parade will be rocking. There’ll be a big crowd there and it’s going to be a tough game for Mansfield.”
He continued: “I don’t think that [the away game] was one of our worst performances this season if I’m being honest.
“Yes, they were better than us, stronger than us over the pitch. There was a key moment in the first-half where they got hold of the game from the 25-minute mark to the 40-minute mark.
“They took control of the game in that time, but they didn’t do it second-half as much and they definitely didn’t do it at Rodney Parade when they came recently.
“We should have taken some chances up there, but they did deservedly win the game.”
The play-offs are essentially two one-off games similar to a cup competition.
County have been immense in the Emirates FA Cup and Carabao Cup over the past two seasons and have only been knocked out of those competitions by higher division opposition.
The Exiles took Tottenham Hotspur – a side who 12 months later contest a Champions League semi-final tonight – to a replay and beat 2016 Premier League Leicester City and Middlesbrough.
With a few minutes to go, County were more than holding their own against Manchester City and Flynn believes the side can take motivation from those occasions into the play-offs.
He said: “They’ve got to be up there because they’re one-off games. I know this is a two-legger but they are one-off games really.
“We want to make sure we get a result on Thursday to put us in a good position for Sunday. If not, it’ll be Mansfield going to Wembley and we’ll be looking back and thinking what could have been.
“If we go and produce the performance levels that we know we can do, then we can cause a big upset.
“The players are so relaxed; they just take it in their stride. I’ve said it time and time again but they’re an absolute joy to work with.
“They make my job a lot easier, there’s no egos, but a massive togetherness. It’s probably the biggest togetherness I’ve seen throughout my career.
“They just keep going against their doubters and I hope they can do it again for three more games.
“I’d much rather be going into the play-offs on a 10-game unbeaten run rather than 10 games not winning one.
“It’s given the boys confidence; it’s shown them that they deserve to be in the play-offs because they’ve done it the hard way.
“We go in there with confidence but that’s it. It’s no good going in there too confident and getting carried away because nothing is done now apart from we have reached the play-offs.”