NEWPORT County AFC still have control of their race for the League Two play-offs after a goalless draw at rivals Exeter City.

The seventh-placed Exiles maintained their three-point lead over the Grecians but saw Salford cut the gap to a solitary point, with both rivals having a better goal difference. Forest Green Rovers are a point ahead in sixth.


County have no margin for error when they entertain struggling Scunthorpe on Tuesday (kick-off 6.30pm) before a home clash against a Cheltenham side who could already be promoted.

Michael Flynn’s men will aim to show more of a cutting edge against the Iron but will be encouraged by the performance at St James Park.

Here are the talking points from Devon…


County have recorded one of each result from their last three fixtures – a loss to Cambridge, win against Crawley and draw at Exeter.

They cannot afford the same in the run-in but the performances suggest that they should record more than four points from nine.

They have defended strongly, kept mistakes to a minimum and shifted the ball nicely. The only gripe has been the familiar one from the second half of the campaign of chances being missed.

In Devon they at least worked teenage Icelandic goalkeeper Jokull Andresson into fine saves to his right when Lewis Collins hit the target with a header and Josh Sheehan fired low from distance.

However, Collins should have done better in the opening minute of the second half when he cut inside and shot straight at the stopper then late on when he took too long before firing off an effort that was deflected behind.

On Tuesday the Exiles must take their chances, not only because they don’t want it to turn into a nervy night but because goal difference could well be vital (Forest Green 6, County 10, Salford 17, Exeter 19).

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A core of the squad have already enjoyed a successful race for the play-offs in 2019 while the majority have enjoyed some big occasions in the cups.

Perhaps that helped on what felt like a pivotal afternoon, yet ended with both sides still being right in the thick of the tussle for the top seven.

A draw was better for County and they didn’t panic at any stage of the game, in fact it was them in the ascendancy after Exeter rang the changes to chase the game and lost their way a little.

The Exiles were pretty composed all afternoon, stuck to their tasks and kept probing. That was highlighted by the relative quiet from the visitors’ bench with Michael Flynn and Wayne Hatswell not having to rant and rave.

Keeping cool is going to be vital over the next 270 minutes that will determine whether they can keep playing beyond 48 games.

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The inclusion of Collins in recent weeks has given the Exiles pace and energy that has been missing for much of the second half of the season.

Like Saikou Janneh until he returned to Bristol City in January because of injury, the 19-year-old is raw but has attributes that trouble League Two defenders.

But Collins will know that should have opened his Exiles account in Devon – if only the late chance had fallen to Padraig Amond or Nicky Maynard – and that came after he should have scored in the opening exchanges against Crawley only to drag a shot wide.

At least he got in the positions but the fact remains that only Scott Twine in the first half of the season has been prolific for County.

Look at the squad list and only Amond, Maynard and Kevin Ellison can be considered goal threats throughout their careers.

Since the turn of the year County have fired a blank in 9 of 23 games, which doesn’t bode well for our nerves in the run-in.

The hope is that breaking his duck will do Collins the power of good, ensuring he has a 20th birthday to remember the day after the Southend finale.

Free Press Series: SOLID: Scot Bennett was assured at the backSOLID: Scot Bennett was assured at the back


It was the right call to go with an unchanged team against Exeter – it would have been a kick in the teeth for any player to have been dropped after the Crawley win.

There would be no complaints if Flynn once again stuck with the formula against Scunthorpe but I’d personally bring back Matty Dolan, who was an unused substitute after recovering from a concussion.

County would hope to be on the front foot against the Iron and Dolan would help with his comfort on the ball and willingness to move forward.

Bringing back the star performer of the season leads to another dilemma, does Flynn leave out another defender or a midfielder?

Scot Bennett, Liam Shephard, Ryan Haynes, Anthony Hartigan or even captain Joss Labadie could be the unlucky one if Dolan is recalled. Of that list, it would be a shock if it was the dependable Bennett.

Given recent performances, Flynn will be surely be wary of a domino effect disrupting the flow because of a rejig but I’d bring back the assured left-footer at the heart of the defence.