The input of former Cardiff City manager Lennie Lawrence has been crucial to Newport County’s rise over the last three seasons.
And the man who led the Bluebirds to promotion via the play-offs in 2003 will play a key role before and during Saturday’s League Two final against Tranmere Rovers at Wembley Stadium.
Lawrence has been alongside manager Michael Flynn almost since day one of his managerial career – and his contribution at a critical moment in the play-offs semi-final underlined the important role he fills.
Flynn gathered his players together on the pitch in front of Newport fans at Mansfield Town and was drawing up a list of players to take penalties at half-time during extra time.
Lawrence stepped forward and told the players: “If this comes down to spot-kicks don’t stroll up to take your penalty.
“That gives home fans the chance to boo. Walk up quickly, look confident and stay focused.”
County scored all five of their penalties top secure a place in the final against Tranmere Rovers at Wembley Stadium.
“That was great advice from Lennie,” said Flynn, who revealed Lawrence was the first man he talked to when it began to look likely he would be appointed Newport manager during March 2017.
“We were together on a coaching badge course and I chatted to Lennie immediately, asking if he would join me.
“I couldn’t lose with somebody like Lennie Lawrence alongside me. He has 1,800 matches on the touchline and his contribution is invaluable.
“The first telephone call I made when it became clear I was to be Newport manager was to Hats (Wayne Hatswell) , who was in Essex.
“I asked him to report the next day (Thursday) and he replied ‘Can I make it Friday.’
“No. See you tomorrow.”
Flynn, Lawrence, assistant manager Hatswell and goalkeeping coach James Hollman, who was on Cardiff City’s staff under Malky Mackay, are a close-knit group.
A turning point in Newport’s season came at half-time during their 1-0 home win against Cheltenham Town, one of 27 clean sheets kept in league and cups this season.
“The game was goalless at half-time and we had been terrible,” said Flynn.
“Hats, Lennie, James and I always have a couple of minutes together before we say anything during half-time.
“I asked Hats whether he would be saying anything and his answer was ‘no’. I replied ‘Yes you are. I want you to go nuts. I’ll speak after your input and simply say come on lads, you can do better.
“Hats went bonkers. He even kicked the metal skip and after his rant had to walk out of the changing room because he had hurt his foot.
“We ended up winning 1-0 and were so much better in the second half.”
Flynn was talking on the BBC podcast Ellis James’ Feast of football before a training session at Cardiff City Stadium.
Around 12,000 Newport supporters will be at Wembley, while thousands more will be at Rodney Parade where the final will be televised on a big screen. Admission is free on a first-come, first-served basis.
County have an astonishing record since 2013 when they defeated Wrexham at Wembley Stadium in the National League play-off final.
Only three man from that day are with the Exiles this season – Flynn, David Pipe and Robbie Willmott.
“We had a strong team unit in 2013, but it’s not as strong as we have now. I speak to Justin Edinburgh, who was Newport manager, quite a lot.
“If we win against Tranmere we will be only one division behind Cardiff City and Swansea City,” says Flynn. “Fellow Welsh clubs. That shows Welsh football is thriving.”
Newport County travel from South Wales to London by train today (Friday) and are staying at a hotel next to Wembley Stadium.
Flynn and his players, though, won’t be visiting Wembley until they arrived at the stadium ahead of the 3pm kick-off on Saturday.
“Everybody in our squad has been to Wembley apart from Regan Poole, who has played at Old Trafford and that’s a good substitute.
“Robbie Willmott has been there five times and we have quite a few who are on three or four visits, including myself.
“We are staying close to Wembley which means our players can soak up the atmosphere.
“Tranmere Rovers are favourites and rightly so because they finished above us in the League Two table. We had the better of league games between us, winning one, drawing one, but none of that matters in a one-off game.”
Rovers are in a play-off final for the third season in a row – losing the first and then earning promotion to the Football League with a win – while Newport are on a 12-match 12-match unbeaten run.
The danger man to Newport hopes could be James Norwood, who has netted 30 goals for Tranmere this season.
Back-up goalkeeper Nick Townsend is the only injury absentee from Newport’s squad, while Flynn has confirmed Fraser Franks is travelling with the squad to Wembley.
Defender Franks was forced to retire from playing in March on medical advice because of a heart problem.
Newport-born County manager Flynn is totally focused on the play-off final, while he heads off on a family holiday to the South of France next week.
He is, though, also on the lookout for a ticket to the Uefa Champions League final between Liverpool and Spurs in Madrid.
“I’d love to go, but I don’t have a ticket,” he said. “If I do get hold of one, though, flights from France to Madrid are a lot cheaper than they are from the UK.”
Newport, possible line-up (4-3-3): Day; Poole, O’Brien, Demetriou, Butler; Bennett, Dolan, Labadie; Amond, Matt, Willmott
Tranmere manager Micky Mellon named the same starting XI for both legs of their semi-final against Forest Green and is likely to stick with the same players again.
Tranmere Rovers (4-1-4-1): Davies; Caprice, Monthe, Nelson, Ridehalgh; Banks; Morris, Harris, Perkins, Jennings; Norwood