NEWPORT County AFC will head to Southend in control of their destiny in the race for the League Two play-offs.

The Exiles climbed above Tranmere Rovers up to fifth thanks to an excellent win against leaders Cheltenham at Rodney Parade.

Captain Joss Labadie struck early with a fine effort from outside the box and that proved to be enough for victory.

County pressed for a second when dominating the first half then held firm in the second, defending strongly as Cheltenham tried to put the pressure on through Ben Tozer’s long throw.

Here are the talking points from the win against the at Rodney Parade…

Free Press Series: DRAMA: Exeter celebrate their late winner at BoltonDRAMA: Exeter celebrate their late winner at Bolton


As County played out the last of six added minutes, it looked like it was job done in the race for the play-offs.

Then came the late drama as Exeter sneaked a last-gasp winner at Bolton and suddenly the prospect of a jolly trip to the seaside was off.

But at 2.59pm, with the Exiles taking on the leaders, this is a situation that everyone in amber would have grabbed.

Look at it another way - Exeter would have come off the field relieved yet disappointed that their exploits hadn't put them above a Newport side facing a side hunting the title.

County could have needed to go to Southend needing a win to cement a top-seven spot, or even been reliant on other results.

Instead a point will guarantee a place in play-offs, while they might even be saved if two of Tranmere (home to Colchester), Forest Green (at Oldham) or Exeter (home to Barrow) slip up.

Rovers would go above County with a draw but the other two need to win and Salford are four points back and irrelevant now.

The Shrimpers won at Barrow on Saturday and the shackles will be off, but this is a classic situation of ‘if you can’t beat them then you don’t deserve to be there’.

A few months ago mid-table looked a possibility, instead County have recorded their highest points total since returning to the Football League and are in a great position to extend their season.

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I can’t be the only one looking at the table with a tinge of regret – County are four points back on Bolton and could have been contenders for the top three.

The poor form from the start of the year, when the deteriorating Parade pitch played its part in sapping confidence, has cost the Exiles.

Too many points were dropped but that’s history and Flynn’s men are finishing with a flourish, with their performances giving confidence for the final day.

A settled side has kept four clean sheets in a row and taken 10 points from a possible 12, and it was a case of two dropped when they were the better team against promotion rivals Exeter.

County are looking more like the team that set the pace in League Two at the start of the season, albeit without the Scott Twine magic.

They need to finish the job now at Southend then go again.

Free Press Series: ENERGY: Padraig AmondENERGY: Padraig Amond


Those that only look at the results and scorers would raise an eyebrow at the suggestion that County have finally found their striker partnership.

Padraig Amond has scored just once in his last 27 appearances and is on a 10-game goal drought while Lewis Collins has struck just once since coming into the line-up, when the teenager slotted against Scunthorpe after a goalkeeping error.

They deserve more than that because they have set the tone for the team with their energy and work rate.

The duo gave Cheltenham’s back three a torrid time in the first half, stopping them from having an easy way out with the ball and stretching them with clever runs over the top.

It was telling that Flynn was yelling from in front of the Bisley Stand at Aaron Lewis for failing to swiftly go long down the channel at one stage – there was no need to look, one of the forwards would have been gambling and chasing it down.

County were under the pump at stages in the second half but Collins kept chasing while Amond was happy to drop deep when needed.

Amond, Matty Dolan (five penalties) and Scott Twine remain their top league scorers on six and if the Exiles had a more prolific striker then they would surely be in the top three.

However, Cheltenham show that you don’t need a Paul Mullin, whose tally of 31 goals is more than the entire Southend squad’s 28.

The Robins headed to Newport with Alfie May and Andy Williams as their top scorers on eight.

County have shared the goals around and only seven clubs have scored more than them this season.

Amond and Collins are showing that forwards shouldn’t just be judged on getting on the scoresheet.

Free Press Series: DECISIONS: Michael Flynn could go with the same side again in SouthendDECISIONS: Michael Flynn could go with the same side again in Southend


Were it not for Lewis Collins going off injured with a leg injury then Michael Flynn could send through his teamsheet for Southend now.

The manager has named the same starters for four games on the spin and will surely resist the temptation to tinker at Roots Hall.

There is a strong case for their strongest XI including Matty Dolan while goalkeeper Nick Townsend had a fine season before a clanger against Cambridge led to Tom King taking his spot.

However, it’s four good displays on the spin and it’s not the time for trying to be too clever.

Hopefully the starters can get the job done in Southend and then Dolan, Luke Gambin, Kevin Ellison, Joe Ledley, Nicky Maynard or Ryan Taylor can blow away the cobwebs off the bench.

The defence has been solid with Liam Shephard taking to his new task as the right-sided centre-back to join forces with the dependable Scot Bennett and Mickey Demetriou.

Anthony Hartigan has really come on strong to form a nice midfield trio of with Josh Sheehan and Labadie.

Fitness-permitting, there could be little to report when the teams are announced at 2pm on Saturday.