ewport County play host to Mansfield Town on Thursday night in the first leg of this season's League Two Play-offs after a run of ten matches unbeaten culminated in a late Jamille Matt equaliser at Morecambe on Saturday, sending the Exiles' season beyond the final day less than two years after saving themselves from relegation from the Football League.
Mike Flynn's men took more league points after the end of February than any other League Two side and have kept clean sheets in eight of their previous ten outings, making them arguably the form team in the league.
When remembering the 1-0 victory at Rodney Parade in early February, County certainly have the recent bragging rights but the Stags had the best of that match and had a golden opportunity to level the game in added time so Flynn's side will need to be wary of the threats that David Flitcroft's visitors possess.
That game saw Mansfield lose ground on leaders Lincoln City but were six points clear of the play-off positions - indicative of the Stags' slide in the latter stage of the regular season. What's more, having lost a final-day decider for the final automatic promotion place, it is likely that the players will come into this match - after such a short turnaround - still on a downer.
However, such adversity could bring the best out of a side with the best defensive record in the division, a point that Exiles' boss Flynn was keen to point out. He said, "They rightfully go into the games as favourites and we go into the games with nothing to lose but everything to gain. "It’s going to be down to us to upset the odds. There is absolutely no pressure on us whatsoever.
Flynn quickly continued to say that home advantage could be a big factor on Thursday night, stating, "But we’ve got the home game first and Rodney Parade will be rocking. There’ll be a big crowd there and it’s going to be a tough game for Mansfield."
On paper, the sides are very evenly matched, Where County boast Padraig Amond, Tyler Walker has 25 goals this season; an obvious inclusion in the PFA League Two Team of the Season and will likely be the main threat to Joe Day's goal. However, Mansfield have quality all over the pitch, which has culminated in 16 different scorers over the course of the season.
Mansfield have five players missing with long-term injuries; Matt Preston (concussion), Bobby Olejnik (knee ligaments), Craig Davies (ankle), Hayden White (broken leg) and Jordan Graham)cartilage problem) will all be absent for the entirety of the play-offs. However, Flitcroft has been boosted by the returns of defender Ben Turner and midfielder Otis Khan who, on the opening day of the season, scored twice past the Exiles.
By contrast, County are in the rare position of having a largely fully fit squad ready for this game; Joss Labadie remains 50/50 however after his gashed ankle and Nick Townsend is likely to remain absent with his elbow injury. But competition for places reigns supreme amongst the squad as Ade Azeez and Karry McKirdy continue to impress with their performances from the bench and further quality on the bench keeps pressure on the central midfielders.
So an unforeseen, unfathomable, unbelievable night in prospect at Rodney Parade. Recent history says that on such occasions, County come to the fore and produce a performance akin to the very best. Spurs, Leicester and Missbrough have all felt the wrath of Newport at their best; Now it's time Mansfield to feel it...again.
Prediction: Newport County 2-0 Mansfield Town