MANAGER Graham Coughlan is relieved that his Newport County AFC players fought for him to get through a dark period when he was questioning himself.

The Exiles, who host Barnet in round two of the FA Cup tomorrow, are buoyant after back-to-back wins in League Two against Stockport and Morecambe.

They have been lifted by the easing of an injury crisis that deprived them of a raft of senior figures and denied them the chance to train properly.

County, whose small budget meant they were among the pre-season relegation favourites, have had to dig deep and Coughlan challenged his squad after a 3-0 hammering at Notts County on October 24.

He said at Meadow Lane: “How many of them really want to go into the trenches with me and roll their sleeves up to fight for me?”

Coughlan got his response and County have climbed to 15th in the table, 10 points above the relegation zone.

South Wales Argus: LOW: Newport County boss Graham Coughlan during the 3-0 loss to Notts CountyLOW: Newport County boss Graham Coughlan during the 3-0 loss to Notts County (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“I am only human and there was a period when I was looking at myself in the mirror, questioning myself and asking whether I was picking the right players, the right system, sending out the right messages,” admitted the manager.

“There was a period when I was questioning myself and had to sit down with the lads and ask if I was still the one that they wanted in the dugout to fight for on a Saturday.

“I’m not going to hide that, there was a period when I felt I couldn’t do anything right but the lads wanted to fight for me and get through this period… but it’s only two games.

“It’s no coincidence that we have got players back and have put in back-to-back wins, but the challenge is getting three on the bounce and seeing where we can go.”

The former Bristol Rovers and Mansfield boss admits that the injury crisis and inconsistent results – played out amid Huw Jenkins’ takeover bid for County – took their toll.

South Wales Argus: Graham Coughlan during County's loss at SwindonGraham Coughlan during County's loss at Swindon (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

“I can’t stress how difficult it was and how many sleepless nights I’ve had over the last two months,” said Coughlan.

“It’s been really, really tough and in fairness to the group, club and supporters we all stuck together and have dug deep to hopefully come through it and start to push on.

“We have a saying in my house ‘his backside is in the chair but his head is elsewhere’, “The kids and the missus are telling me about what they have done and will say ‘Dad, you’re not listening to us, are you?’.

“It’s difficult to explain, it’s very hard to enjoy a victory because you are thinking about the next training session, the next game, the team, injuries.

“There is always something else to be thinking about, particularly at this club where there is a lot, and still is a lot, going on that needs attention and managing.

“We work really, really hard – everyone can see our fitness levels, standards and professionalism – and you just want the rewards at the end of the week.

“It was a really frustrating period because nothing was going for us and we weren’t getting our just rewards, because performance levels has been high for 95 per cent of our games.”

County have been boosted by the returns from long-term injury of centre-back James Clarke and striker Seb Palmer-Houlden while midfielder Harry Charsley made his comeback as a late sub in Morecambe.

“There was a massive strain on us and at times it was a difficult place to be. We weren’t training, we were wrapping the lads in cotton wool and doing things that are not normal,” said Coughlan.

“I can’t stress enough how tough it was; the players want to have feisty, fiery training sessions and get wired into each other with crunching tackles.

“That was a no-no and something we could not do because we couldn’t afford anything else to happen because we were down to the bare bones.

“It’s brilliant to have lads coming back and some competition – I can’t wait to have one or two choices because over the last couple of months it has been ‘if you are fit, you play’.”