NO PARTY hats, no charades, no jelly and no ice cream – the Newport County AFC players have seen their Christmas do cancelled and, looking at the fixture list, it’s probably just as well!

With a high-stakes FA Cup replay against Wrexham at Rodney Parade tonight followed by the visit of League Two leaders MK Dons on Saturday and then a trip to second-placed Lincoln City a week later, the run-up to Christmas could hardly be any tougher for the Exiles.

After a disappointing defeat at Swindon Town, Michael Flynn’s men could have done with a gentler run of matches.

But the next two weeks should at least give us a good idea of how County compare to the top two sides in the division and where the squad needs to be strengthened in January.

“It’s a real tough month of fixtures and if we come out of that positively then it gives us a chance for the rest of the season,” said Flynn after the 2-1 defeat at the County Ground.

By yesterday morning’s pre-match press conference ahead of the Wrexham tie, he was more optimistic.

“You’ve got to play them all over the course of the season and I’d rather get them in one month,” he said.

“We’ve got to play with a confidence in the ability we have got.

“I don’t think we did that on Saturday, even with the wind.

“You can’t miss as many chances and concede so many chances as we are doing at the moment away from home.”

The table shows that only three teams have scored more than County after 21 games – Bury, Lincoln and Colchester United.

But only the bottom three – Cambridge United, Notts County and Macclesfield Town – have conceded more.

And, while he made clear that the back line is not solely to blame, Flynn fired a warning shot to his defenders yesterday.

Mickey Demetriou, Fraser Franks, Mark O’Brien, Scot Bennett, Dan Butler and David Pipe have all proved themselves more than capable players at this level.

But something is not working and the boss is prepared to bring in defensive reinforcements next month.

“I wouldn’t mind if it was a great bit of football that splits us open or a striker puts one in the top corner but that’s probably only happened two times this season,” said a clearly frustrated Flynn.

“The rest have been mistakes and it’s not good enough.

“And that’s not just the defenders. When we’re at our best we defend from the front.

“We had a meeting on game-management on Friday and that completely went out of the window come kick-off on Saturday.

“I spoke to the players about Swindon’s first goal [on Monday morning] and it took me longer to explain it than it did for them to actually score, so something is not right there,” he added.

“The kick-off was wrong, the marking from the throw-in was wrong, and the marking at the back post was wrong.

“It’s not just one mistake and it’s getting right on my wick so we’ll do something about it.

“If that means waiting until January then that’s what we’ll do because I will be looking for defenders.”

County will be glad of their home comforts against Wrexham tonight and MK Dons on Saturday but another area that clearly needs improvement is their stuttering away form, starting with that long trip to Lincoln on December 22.

After winning four of their first seven away games this season – at Cambridge United, Port Vale, Oldham Athletic and Tranmere Rovers – and earning a creditable draw at Exeter City, County have tasted victory in just one of their last nine matches on the road.

That win came at non-league minnows Metropolitan Police in the FA Cup and it’s a sequence that has seen the Exiles go down to defeat at Crawley Town, Carlisle United, Cheltenham Town and Swindon.

“I don’t understand why you get the difference from home and away,” said Flynn.

“The travelling can make you a bit more tired but once you’re out on that pitch and you’ve prepared right it’s just a football pitch with 11 against 11.

“It’s not different so I don’t understand why there is that big gap at the moment between home and away performances.

“And that’s only recently because we started the season excellently away from home, so we’ll get back to that.”

There’s plenty of work for Flynn and his coaching team to do then, but – despite those frustrations and whatever happens over the next few weeks – a fine start to the season means County should still have everything to play for in 2019.