ASKED about a play-off push after Saturday’s win at Cambridge United, striker Shawn McCoulsky revealed the confidence in the camp when he insisted that Newport County AFC haven’t given up on automatic promotion yet.

The 20-year-old, who netted his 10th goal of the season in the 2-1 victory over the U’s, was speaking with the unguarded optimism of youth.

Those with more experience of the highs and lows of the game were more cautious when discussing the Exiles’ prospects.

Captain Joss Labadie is very much a ‘take each game as it comes’ man.

The skipper, who bundled in the stoppage-time winner at the Abbey Stadium, said: “As long as we’re doing our job then that’s all that matters really.

“But I’m really pleased with the start. I think everyone at the club – fans, staff, players – are all happy.

“If you said to us at the start of the season that by Christmas we’d be where we are now, then I think most of us would have snatched your hand off for that.”

Where they are now, after 22 games, is ninth in the League Two table.

Saturday’s home clash with Lincoln City marks the halfway point of the season and County are just a point below the play-off places.

And, as McCoulsky pointed out, they are only five points behind Exeter City in the third and final automatic promotion place.

But manager Michael Flynn is clear that, after last season’s Great Escape from relegation and successive 22nd-place finishes, his first target is to retain the club’s Football League status for another year.

“The club has improved but I’m not getting carried away – not until we’re on at least 52 points,” he said on Saturday.

“We’ll see how quickly we can get there and then we’ll see how far we can go from there.

“I never take anything for granted,” he added.

“I’ve worked hard in my playing career and I’m working even harder in my managerial career.

“I’ve got a great staff and a great bunch of players who give me everything nine times out of 10 and I really can’t praise them enough for battling and getting an important win against a decent Cambridge team.

“There’s things we’ve got to learn – we’re not the finished article but we’re going in the right direction.

“And we want to get as many points as we can as quickly as possible so that we can play with a bit of freedom.”

South Wales Argus:

Both Labadie and Flynn admitted that County were fortunate to win on Saturday and it certainly wasn’t a performance to convince a neutral observer that they are genuine promotion contenders.

But finding a way to win when below your best is always a good sign and, in what we are constantly told is a results business, Flynn and his team are producing the results to keep them in the hunt.

The progress they have made in 12 months is nothing short of miraculous.

This time last year Graham Westley’s team were beaten 3-1 at Crawley Town to ensure that they would stay four points adrift at the bottom of the table with just 17 points from 20 games.

They are now 14 points clear of Chesterfield and Forest Green Rovers in the relegation places and we can be fairly confident that there will be no battle to beat the drop this time round.

The festive fixture list has a tough look about it with the visit of sixth-placed Lincoln followed by matches against fourth-placed Wycombe Wanderers on Boxing Day and third-placed Exeter on New Year’s Day, with a sort-of derby at Cheltenham Town sandwiched in-between.

The picture could all look very different by the time of the FA Cup third round clash with Leeds United but this side has demonstrated time and again the character and resilience that they possess and a collapse seems unlikely.

Long-suffering County fans can enjoy their Christmas safe in the knowledge that their team is on the up and approaching the New Year full of optimism.

Labadie and Flynn are right play things down, in public at least, but McCoulsky is also correct in his belief that there is everything to play for.

Flynn and his coaches have already earmarked a number of targets to improve the squad in the January transfer window and keeping hold of top scorer McCoulsky means they already have a head-start in that department.

It all means that County are heading into the second half of the season in a position of strength for the first time since the days of Justin Edinburgh.

And they don’t have to worry about the ghosts of Christmas past.