NEWPORT County AFC manager Graham Coughlan believes his in-form squad are reaping the rewards of battling through their nightmare autumn.

The Exiles have climbed to 11th in League Two thanks to a seven-game unbeaten streak and four wins on the spin, the latest a 3-0 win at Walsall.

County were tipped by many to be in a scrap for Football League survival after a summer of high-profile departures and financial uncertainty that prompted a hunt for investment and Huw Jenkins’ takeover.

Instead, they have forced their way into the play-off picture with seventh-placed Harrogate just four points ahead of them.

County face a key week at Rodney Parade with tenth-placed Notts County the visitors on Tuesday (kick-off 7.45pm) and then ninth-placed Gillingham travel from Kent on Saturday.

South Wales Argus: CELEBRATIONS: Will Evans enjoys victory with the travelling County supporters at WalsallCELEBRATIONS: Will Evans enjoys victory with the travelling County supporters at Walsall (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Exiles are full of confidence for the fixtures thanks to their form and competition for places, something that contrasts starkly to the autumn.

Coughlan was without ten outfield senior players in November when he could only name five substitutes on his bench to face MK Dons, three of them teenagers.

That came after a visit to Notts County when the exasperated manager admitted he was “in a corner” after a 3-0 defeat.

Coughlan has comprehensively got the answer to the question he posed 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?”

County have climbed into the top half with Coughlan setting his squad the first target of 50 points to secure safety, then 58 points to beat last year’s final tally.

“I’m delighted for the lads because they stuck with me through the tough times in September, October and November when we were decimated by injuries,” said the manager after they moved to 43 at Walsall.

“They could have easily waved a white flag and gone under but they didn’t – they carried on, dug deep and got points in games that we probably didn’t deserve.

“We had to batten down the hatches for those three months but we got players back healthy and are now able to fill a bench and have a little bit of competition for places.

“I have to take my hat off to the group, they been brilliant because it was tough. We stuck together as a club and this little run is testament to all those that stuck with us.”

South Wales Argus: County boss Graham CoughlanCounty boss Graham Coughlan (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

County were in command from the off at Walsall thanks to early goals by Bryn Morris and Will Evans with Harry Charsley heading the third before the break.

“In the first 20 minutes we were absolutely outstanding, probably the best 20 minutes we've had since I've come to the club,” said Coughlan, who was appointed in October, 2022.

“It was front-foot football and the goals were really, really good and well-worked. Yes, we got a bit of a deflection for the first from Bryn's shot but Will Evans' individual goal was Premier League standard.

“If that happened in the Premier League or in international football then it would be flashed across Sky Sports every hour.

“I was really pleased with us in the first half and let's just say it was a professional performance in the second, although we had two or three really good opportunities.

“They showed both sides of their game with the professionalism in the second half and the flair and quality in the first.”

Notts County lost 3-1 at home to Gillingham on Friday.