NEWPORT County AFC still have their promotion fate in their own hands despite having to settle for a goalless draw at fellow play-off hopefuls Exeter City.

The Exiles had the better of an enjoyable clash at St James Park but failed to take their chances, although they are the happier with the point.

Exeter remain three back, but with a better points difference, while Salford beat Mansfield to close to within a point.

It was goalless after an even first half in which County went closest through Lewis Collins and Josh Sheehan, who were both denied by sharp saves.

The Exiles had the better openings after the break with Collins firing straight at the ‘keeper in the 46th minute and then denied by a deflection in the closing stages.

There was almost drama at the death when sub Nicky Maynard and Padraig Amond combined but the ball rolled across the face of the goal in the fourth and final minute of time added on.

It means that County remain in seventh and stay as the chased rather than the chasers; they have been in the top seven since the win at Bolton on September 26, matchday number three.

They spent 15 of those rounds as leaders until winter woes led to a push for automatic promotion turning into a race for the play-offs.

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However, twists and turns are sure to lie ahead and County cannot slip up when they host Scunthorpe on Tuesday evening before another home clash with League One-bound Cheltenham and final day trip to Southend.

Flynn named an unchanged side after the strong performance in the 2-0 win against Crawley in midweek.

That meant fit-again defender Matty Dolan, arguably the player of the season, had to be content with a place on the bench at the expense of forward Jake Scrimshaw.

The spoils had been shared at Rodney Parade when it took a late Dom Telford leveller to deny the Grecians, who had played the entire second half with nine men.

That impressive backs-to-the-wall effort was aided by boggy conditions but the pitch was perfect on a glorious afternoon at St James Park, one that meant Exeter 'keeper Jokull Andresson wore a cap in the first half.

It was an even opening with both sides content to have a look at each other with the first nervy moment at the County end after 10 minutes when Tom King was scrambling after Archie Collins’ cross from the left was deflected just past his far post.

The Exiles had a sniff of a chance after 22 minutes when Collins played in Aaron Lewis down the right but he opted not to take on the shot and was crowded out.

“Az, back yourself. Left foot," was the advice of Flynn to his wing-back.

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County had their first proper effort on goal in the 25th minute when Liam Shephard fired in a volley from a corner that was nodded clear, although the strong shot was blocked before it could test the ‘keeper.

Approaching the half hour there were genuine chances at either end after crosses from the left.

First Collins forced Andresson into a fine save to his right with a header and then Grecians captain Jake Taylor failed to hit the target from eight yards out.

The home ‘keeper made an even better save on the stroke of half-time when Josh Sheehan drove low towards the same corner only to be denied by the Icelandic teenager at full stretch.

Andresson was called into action just 36 seconds after the restart when Collins cut inside onto his right inside the box but shot centrally.

It remained goalless after an hour with Flynn sticking with his starters while counterpart Matt Taylor made changes, reflecting his pre-match comments about it being “must-win”.

It was a half a few chances with both teams guilty of poor delivery from set pieces and the wide channels.

Exeter had a first real sighter after 79 minutes when sub Josh Key cut in on his left foot, sitting down Mickey Demetriou in the process, only to fire high and wide from a tough angle.

County had the clearest opening of the game with six minutes left when Collins, who had just received treatment, was played in by Padraig Amond only to be denied when his shot was deflected behind.

Could he have taken it sooner? It was his last act with experienced striker Nicky Mayard coming on after the teenager’s energetic effort.

He combined with Amond at the death but the Irishman’s flick from the goalline rolled across without an attacker to tap it in.

The Exiles probably would have taken a point at kick-off but they know hard work lies ahead.

Exeter: Andresson, Caprice, Sparkes, Atangana, McArdle, Taylor (captain), Collins, Bowman, Jay, Sweeney, Hartridge.
Substitutes: Maxted, Seymour, Williams, Parkes, Fisher, Page, Key.

County: King, Shephard, Bennett, Demetriou, Lewis, Haynes, Sheehan, Hartigan, Labadie (captain), Collins, Amond.
Substitutes: Townsend, Dolan, Ledley, Gambin, Ellison, Telford.
Yellow: Collins

Referee: Robert Lewis