BOTH clubs are keen to stress that it is business as usual but Saturday’s first game of the season at Rodney Parade between Newport County AFC and Walsall is no ordinary League Two clash.

There might be old boys in both squads – James Clarke and Cameron Norman for the Exiles, Joss Labadie, Conor Wilkinson and Timmy Abraham for the Saddlers – but it is the away dugout that will get the attention.

Michael Flynn is assured of a warm reception when he makes the familiar walk down the touchline at Rodney Parade but the County legend and right-hand man Wayne Hatswell will then enjoy a new experience when on the receiving end of jibes and quips from the terrace.

The 41-year-old manager brings his Walsall side to the city this weekend for a first return to his old stomping ground since leaving last October.

South Wales Argus:

The initial plan had been for Flynn to enjoy one last hurrah against Scunthorpe United but in the end it was Hatswell that held the reins for a 3-0 triumph against the hapless Iron.

Caretaker boss Hatswell would have a four-game unbeaten run in League Two before staying on to help new manager James Rowberry get his feet under the table in mid-October.

The assistant signed a new contract in November but eventually headed to the West Midlands in February when Flynn made his return to management.

The pair are assured of an ovation at just before 3pm but they are in Saddlers tracksuits now so it won't be long until the taunts begin from the Rodney Road terrace.

They will be good-natured – he’s not Derek Adams or Richie Wellens, after all.

Flynn's exploits are legendary with the midfielder having three spells as a player with the Exiles, including as a member of Justin Edinburgh’s squad that earned a return to the Football League in 2013.

As a boss he spearheaded the Great Escape from relegation followed by cup runs that mean the club are in a healthy financial position, even after the challenges of the Covid pandemic.

Flynn was agonisingly close to taking County to the third tier for the first time since 1987 but suffered controversial play-off final defeats to Tranmere and Morecambe in 2019 and 2021.

It was after the second of those Wembley losses that he hinted it was time for a fresh start and, after initially staying to rebuild a squad for 2021/22, the manager left the Rodney Parade hotseat 12 games into the campaign.

That led to Ian Holloway’s tongue-in-cheek suggestion that a statue of Flynn should be put up outside Rodney Parade, although he’d be behind Dai Watkins in the queue for such an honour.

South Wales Argus: Michael Flynn and Wayne Hatswell are coming back to Rodney ParadeMichael Flynn and Wayne Hatswell are coming back to Rodney Parade

Flynn returned to management with Walsall and after a busy summer of recruitment got off to a flying start with a 4-0 thrashing of Hartlepool at the Bescot Stadium.

County left Sutton with a hard-earned point and recording a first maximum haul that is on Rowberry’s mind, even if the action in the technical areas will get more attention than normal.

“It will be a tough game, but every game is tough in League Two,” said Rowberry. “We will be ready for it and will prepare well.

“I’ve known Michael for a long time and Wayne is one of my best mates – they are good people – but it’s a case of them getting a warm welcome but then we’ve got to try and win a football match.”

Defender Norman played for Walsall and was then Flynn’s first target of last summer, going on to become a key figure after heading for Newport.

“There is probably a little one per cent in it that will be bigged up a bit but we will just concentrate on what we have to do,” he said. “It will be good to get back at home in front of our fans and we are all up for it.”

County, who suffered five straight losses in Newport to end 2021/22, will hope that it’s not a happy homecoming for Flynn.