AS THE sun sets on the 2018-2019 season – one of the best in the club’s recent history – what next for Newport County AFC?

It looks like being a busy summer for manager Michael Flynn as he attempts to keep this talented squad of players together and add that little bit of extra quality to improve on this campaign.

As Flynn was quick to acknowledge after Saturday’s defeat to Tranmere Rovers at Wembley, that will be a tall order.

The Exiles have thrived as the underdogs in the league and cups this season, but they won’t be under the radar in 2019-2020.

Reaching the FA Cup fifth round and making it all the way to the League Two play-off final has forced people to sit up and take notice of little old Newport County and expectations have been raised.

“I just hope that people don’t get carried away now and expect the same every year because it’s going to be tough,” said Flynn.

“We’re going to be a marked team; everyone is going to want to beat us. And I think the division is going to be tougher again next season.”

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And it’s inevitable that Flynn will have to do without some of his best players next season.

At present, only nine are signed up – goalkeeper Nick Townsend, young defender Jay Foulston, utility man Scot Bennett, wingers Robbie Willmott and Keanu Marsh-Brown, attacking midfielder Lewis Collins and strikers Padraig Amond, Jamille Matt and Ade Azeez.

The club is set to announce the retained and released list today and Wales under-21 forward Momodou Touray is also expected to be offered a new deal to stay at Rodney Parade.

Fraser Franks and David Pipe have retired, while Will Randall and Tyler Forbes are expected to be released and Andrew Crofts could also be on his way after a frustrating season.

Loan players Tyreeq Bakinson, Harry McKirdy and Regan Poole will also depart.

Bakinson has signed a new deal at Bristol City, but McKirdy has confirmed that he will be leaving Aston Villa and Poole is likely to be released by Manchester United.

McKirdy could potentially be offered a deal but he may have his sights set on playing higher up the leagues and Poole is definitely being monitored by bigger clubs.

Dan Butler looks almost certain to move onwards and upwards and he could be followed by Joe Day, Mickey Demetriou and Joss Labadie.

Flynn will hope to keep some of those key men, as well as the likes of Mark O’Brien, Josh Sheehan and Matty Dolan.

“It’s a special group of players, the best I’ve been involved with on a day to day basis,” said Matt, my man of the match at Wembley.

“Everybody comes in with a smile on their face and that something that the manager and staff have created. I’m looking forward to next season. I don’t want this to be the last memory.

“We’re all ambitious players and you can’t say everyone’s going to stay because that’s the way football is.

“In the lower leagues people tend to move on, but I’d hope to see everyone here next season.”

And,

as Demetriou admitted on Saturday night

, keeping these players together could hinge on the future of Flynn himself.

The Exiles boss has been linked with the Swansea City job this week and that won’t be the last job he’s touted for after the sterling work he and his staff have done over the past two years.

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It all adds up to a summer of uncertainty at Rodney Parade, but there is hope for County if the manager and the majority of the squad stay put.

Aston Villa’s victory over Derby County yesterday afternoon made them the ninth club since the 2008-2009 season to have lost an EFL play-off final one year and won promotion 12 months later.

Reading, Middlesbrough, Brentford, Burton Albion and Plymouth Argyle have all gone up automatically the year after defeat at Wembley.

And Villa, Huddersfield and Millwall, who have done it twice, all returned to win the play-off final the year after falling at the final hurdle.

Exeter City lost successive League Two play-off finals in 2017 and 2018 and Tranmere, as if we need reminding, have now won back-to-back promotions under Mickey Mellon's shrewd stewardship after losing the 2017 National League play-off final.

It’s been a remarkable two years for Flynn’s men – from the Great Escape to within a whisker of League One – and hopefully Saturday was just a bump in the road, rather than the end of the journey.

Read more: After the pain, comes pride for Newport County