NEWPORT County AFC avoided a banana skin in their race for the League play-offs thanks to a first-half blitz of Scunthorpe United, now for their biggest test of the season.

The Exiles beat the Iron 4-0 at Rodney Parade to ensure their fate remains in their hands going into round 45 of 46.

Yet Saturday's clash is the one that gives hope to the chasing pack - they host a Cheltenham side who are going up to League One but still have the carrot of the title.

County had to make sure they headed into that game in charge of their destiny and that was pretty much done by half-time.

The Exiles were frustrated in the first quarter by Scunthorpe, who sat in with no attacking intentions, but the Iron were jelly-like after the opener and have been dragged into a relegation scrap.

Defender George Taft headed into his own net after 29 minutes and that was followed by a thumping Mickey Demetriou header after 34 and Lewis Collins’ first senior goal after a goalkeeping howler after 39.

At 3-0 up at the break manager Michael Flynn would have told his players to go hunting for more to boost their goal difference.

Sub Nicky Maynard hit the bar before Demetriou headed a late fourth, leaving County to head back to their changing room to reflect on a job well done and to watch the results come in from the later kick-offs.

They were looking favourable when their final whistle went but then Salford and Exeter both struck late.

County climbed into sixth above Forest Green Rovers, who are out of the top seven after a costly loss to Barrow.

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This was a must-win for a promotion hopeful; Scunthorpe headed to Newport on a four-game losing streak in which they had conceded 12.

The league season started with County having to settle for a draw at Glanford Park, when striker Ryan Loft smashed home an unstoppable equaliser from distance for the hosts.

Michael Flynn could ill afford a repeat and stuck with the line-up that beat Crawley and had the better of things in the draw at Exeter.

In fact, assistant Wayne Hatswell could have handed in the same teamsheet with Tipp-Ex over the opponent’s name as the same seven subs, of who only Maynard got on in Devon, got the nod.

County had failed to score in the first half of six games on the spin, a stat that did little for the nerves of the absent Amber Army.

The Exiles were on the front foot from the off with the first attempt coming after seven minutes when a neat corner move ended with centre-back Demetriou firing a yard over the bar from the edge of the area.

Scunthorpe matched County’s formation, although they were more 5-3-2 than 3-5-2 with manager Neil Cox’s plan being to frustrate their hosts.

The Iron would have been delighted with the opening in which Flynn’s side were limited to shifting the ball around inside their own half.

But the visitors’ plan was ruined in the 30th minute when a forward run by Joss Labadie – something that had been desperately lacking – led to Padraig Amond clipped into a cross that was headed into his own net by Taft.

And, at the start of cricketing season, one brought two.

Sheehan swung in a corner from the right and Demetriou timed his run perfectly before heading comprehensively in at the far post.

Free Press Series: DESERVED: Lewis Collins fires homeDESERVED: Lewis Collins fires home

It got better when goalkeeper Mark Howard dropped a long throw and Collins slammed home for a goal his recent energetic performances have deserved.

County were limited to 3-0 at the break but went hunting more from the restart, with Flynn having attacking options on his bench for when he protected legs for the Cheltenham clash.

The manager would have wanted another goal before turning to the subs in order to keep the flow and avoid accusations of complacency.

Scunthorpe gave a warning with a pair of corners that were delivered nicely into the six-yard box with Tom King flapping at the first and visiting centre-back Emmanuel Onariase nodding over the second.

The Iron had their first shot on target in four hours of football when striker Loft headed straight at King approaching the hour.

Amond was replaced by fellow veteran poacher Nicky Maynard for the final half hour and then there was a triple change on 70 minutes with the introduction of Matty Dolan, Luke Gambin and Kevin Ellison.

This was both a bid to protect key men for Cheltenham – Sheehan, Labadie and Ryan Haynes came off – and push for a fourth with fresh legs.

Maynard nearly got it when he timed his run perfectly to latch onto a long clearance by King, neatly chipped over Howard first time and was ready to celebrate only for the hard ground to deny him with the ball bouncing high onto the crossbar.

Collins’ superb shift came to an end in the 83rd minute with January recruit Dom Telford joining the goal hunt yet it was Demetriou who got it when he nodded home a simple header from a floated Dolan free-kick.

It was pretty much the perfect evening, one that gives real hope of extended the season beyond 46 games.

County: King, Shephard, Bennett, Demetriou, Lewis, Haynes (Ellison 70), Sheehan (Dolan 70), Hartigan, Labadie (captain, Gamib 70), Collins (Telford 82), Amond (Maynard 62).
Substitutes not used: Townsend, Dolan, Ledley.
Goals: Taft (OG), Demetriou (2), Collins

Scunthorpe: Howard, Taft, Bedeau, Onariase, Gilliead (captain), Loft, Eisa, Beestin, Karacan, Howe, O'Malley.
Substitutes: Watson, Van Veen, Green, Spence, Rowe, Jessop, McAtee.

Referee: Craig Hicks