JUST 10 weeks on from that agonising play-off final defeat to Tranmere Rovers, Newport County AFC return to League Two action this Saturday ready to upset the odds once again.

After the devastating death of former manager Justin Edinburgh in June, which certainly put things in perspective for County fans, I hesitate to use the phrase ‘Wembley heartache’ but that near-miss was certainly hard to take for everyone with amber in the blood.

Exiles manager Michael Flynn, who was deeply affected by the loss of his mentor Edinburgh, was obviously gutted to see promotion slip through his fingers in the final minute of a 10-month campaign.

But he’s quickly refocused and set about rebuilding the squad with the aim of going one better this season.

And, judging by their pre-season performances, County seem to be in pretty good shape ahead of the new campaign.

Losing goalkeeper Joe Day and left-back Dan Butler was unfortunate but not unexpected and no true fan can begrudge them moving up the league ladder after such great service to the club over the past few years.

But Flynn has managed to keep hold of his other key players with Mark O’Brien, Josh Sheehan, Matty Dolan, Joss Labadie and Mickey Demetriou all signing new two-year deals to stay at Rodney Parade this summer.

Many fans must have feared that Labadie and Demetriou would follow Day and Butler out of the door after the play-off final defeat.

But both players turned down contract offers from rival clubs, some in League One, to commit their future to County.

That is testament to the persuasive skills of the manager and the belief that exists within the dressing room that this group of players can still go on to achieve something special in the coming years.

On top of keeping the core of last season’s successful squad together, Flynn has brought in a host of new faces to freshen things up.

And, while drawing too many conclusions from pre-season is always a dangerous game, he appears to have recruited well on what is still a relatively tight budget.

New goalkeeper Tom King looks like a safe pair of hands and he’s set for an exciting battle with Nick Townsend for the number on spot.

And, despite saying goodbye to Regan Poole and losing Fraser Franks and David Pipe to retirement in addition to Butler’s departure, the defence looks to be stronger than ever with cover in every position.

Kyle Howkins, Lazar Stojsavljevic and Marvel Ekpiteta have been brought in to compete with O’Brien and Demetriou in central defence.

Daniel Leadbitter and Danny McNamara, whose loan signing has yet to be confirmed, will battle it out for the right-back or right wing-back spot and George Nurse and Ryan Haynes will go head-to-head on the left.

Up front, Corey Whitely and Tristan Abrahams will hope to take some of the scoring burden off Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt.

Flynn is also hoping to add another attacker on loan before the end of the transfer window on September 2 but if that’s not possible it could give academy graduate Momodou Touray the chance to gain some valuable first-team experience from the bench.

South Wales Argus:

Whitely (above) has looked the most exciting new addition during pre-season and he and Robbie Willmott could cause teams plenty of problems over the next 10 months.

Flynn, assistant Wayne Hatswell and management consultant Lennie Lawrence, are also hoping to add another midfielder with Bristol City youngster George Dowling a possibility.

Exiles academy player Dom Jefferies, who has impressed in all his pre-season appearances, could also be an option.

It all adds up to a positive summer for County, who will have to deal with raised expectations after their exploits last season.

“The gaffer has already told us we’re going to be a marked team this year,” said Demetriou recently.

“It showed towards the end of last season as well, but we’ve got to take that pressure on the chin.

“We’ve got to deal with the pressure that comes with being a good side.

“It’s a credit to us. We’ve come out of nowhere. We’ve had a good two years and we’ve got to keep building on it.”

The bookmakers evidently don’t agree, with Flynn’s men rated as the 15th most-likely promotion winners in League Two. This weekend’s opponents Mansfield Town are the favourites.

But it will suit the Exiles just fine if they can go under the radar again. They have proved consistently that they are more than capable of punching above their weight.

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