WHEN Michael Flynn started his first recruitment drive as boss of Newport County AFC, Matty Dolan's creativity made him a top target.

He arrived from Yeovil in the summer of 2017 with manager Flynn hailing the midfielder's technical ability and intelligence.

Those two assets have turned him from a mainstay in the middle of the park to a pivotal figure at the heart of the defence, slotting in between Brandon Cooper and Mickey Demetriou.

The Exiles have expanded their game and Dolan has allowed them to build from the back.

Before this season the 27-year-old had made 124 appearances for the Exiles and he has added to that with 15 outings as a centre-back in the current campaign.

After stunning Swansea City and Watford in the Carabao Cup, County are setting the pace in League Two. That's down to the playmaking of Josh Sheehan, the creativity and long-range shooting of Scott Twine, the energy of Liam Shephard and Ryan Haynes down the flanks and key to it all has been Dolan, the number 8 who is holding it all together at the back.

South Wales Argus:

"I spoke to Matty in pre-season when I got out of hospital and he said that the manager was looking to put him in a centre-back role," said Mark O'Brien, whose retirement because of a heart issue opened up a vacancy in defence.

"At first I didn't know what to expect because he had been centre mid his whole career but he has been so vital in the style of play that we are looking for.

"The way that football is going now, everybody is looking for that centre-back who can step into midfield and he has been brilliant.

"He is implementing his game and is comfortable playing one-twos with the midfielders. That gives us an added overload, which is something that never really happened when I played.

"With Matty doing it so freely, we have gained an extra person in the middle of the park and it is working wonders.

"We could have been lost without him given the way that the manager wants to play and I've said to him that it's a change that can prolong his career for a couple more years."

Yet it's not just the ball-playing of his former teammate that has impressed O'Brien, who is a member of Flynn's backroom team.

South Wales Argus:

"There were question marks because in League Two you come up against big, tough strikers that want to throw elbows, back into you, run the channels," said the former Derby, Motherwell and Luton defender who has been helping with analysis.

"You have to know when to step up, when to stay with runners, when to track, how to squeeze up, how to drop back. There is so much more to it.

"When Matty stepped into that role a lot of people had doubts about the physical side of it but he has taken to it so well.

"He is stepping in front of strikers and holding people off, he reads the game really well and you can see that his heading is getting so much better week to week.

"One of his main attributes is that he is a very good communicator. Sometimes he says things that can't be repeated in a newspaper but he keeps everyone on their toes.

"He has taken to it like he has played there his whole career but Matty has learnt on the job, really. That's impressive and it's looking like a role that was made perfectly for him."

South Wales Argus:

Dolan was, however, given a glimpse of the future when he was put under real pressure by Walsall in Tuesday's 1-1 draw.

A couple of mistakes could easily have led to Saddlers goals and O'Brien stresses that it's a learning experience, knowing there is a time and a place.

"The next step to his game, and we know that he will want to play because of his background as a midfielder, is putting his foot through it when under pressure and ask questions later," said the Irishman.

"Don't take too many chances because you are not a midfielder now, if you make a mistake then they are through on goal.

"He didn't let it faze him against Walsall and that was exactly what we needed. He has been a breath of fresh air."

County will hope that Dolan and the defence thrive with and without the ball when they entertain Salford City in the FA Cup on Saturday (kick-off 1pm).