NEWPORT County AFC’s season continues thanks to a nervy 1-1 draw at Southend that earned a spot in the League Two play-offs.

The Exiles were smiling at the final whistle thanks to Mickey Demetriou’s flicked header after 56 minutes and Tom King’s penalty save on the hour.

Southend took the lead when Shaun Hobson fired home after 10 minutes and were the better side but Michael Flynn’s men got the draw that they needed to earn a semi-final with Forest Green Rovers.

Here are the talking points from a tense afternoon at Roots Hall…

NERVY FINALE

At no point yesterday were County outside the play-offs on the ‘as it stands’ league table, but it didn’t feel like that.

It was a horrendous afternoon with the Exiles’ performance making you fear the worst, glancing to a screen expecting it to flash up with a goal alert from St James Park or Boundary Park.

Flynn’s side had their fate in their own hands and did the business by getting a point, meaning they wouldn’t have suffered anguish even if Exeter had managed to scramble another winner deep into injury time.

Ultimately they got what they deserved – the table doesn’t lie, and all that – and the Exiles have been in the top seven since the end of matchday three, when they won at Bolton.

It has been a superb season for Michael Flynn & Co, who have had to show remarkable resilience.

We were all dreaming of automatic promotion in January and then fearing mid-table in March after the loss of Scott Twine, Brandon Cooper and Rodney Parade grass.

The Exiles have been the fifth best side in League Two and now need to be the best side in the play-offs by showing their knockout pedigree.

Free Press Series: OPENER: County fell behind to Shaun Hobson's openerOPENER: County fell behind to Shaun Hobson's opener

MUST DO BETTER

County deserve to be in the play-offs, but they got away with it at Southend.

They headed to Roots Hall on the back of five strong performances after having the better of promoted Cambridge in defeat then beating Crawley, Scunthorpe and Cheltenham to go along with the draw at Exeter.

That led to Flynn naming the same side for the fifth game on the spin but the players failed to hit the heights.

King made a good save from Greg Halford before the opener and then Halford somehow fired over the bar from a couple of yards.

It took another smart stop from the County ‘keeper to deny Rush in open play after a Scot Bennett mistake early in the second half, rushing out and blocking with his shoulder, and then he did the same from the spot when diving to his left.

Southend were the better side and Flynn’s post-match comments look to be spot on, the Shrimpers could have enjoyed a great escape had Phil Brown arrived earlier because they were a lot sharper than Scunthorpe.

County have made the play-offs but know that they need to be much better than they were at Roots Hall if they are to become a League One club. They will know that.

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COUNTY'S KING

A clue about a big decision came when it was Nick Townsend rather than King that was warming up first ahead of the game against Crawley.

Sure enough, when the sides were confirmed there was a change at the top of the teamsheet with Townsend, whose fine season had earned a two-year contract, paying the price for a howler against Cambridge.

It was a big call from Flynn and in truth King didn’t have an awful lot to do after his recall. That changed in Southend.

The Wales squad member was superb and was hugged by his manager on the final whistle.

He will be on a high but won’t get carried away because there are hopefully three big games ahead, and January showed what can happen for a ‘keeper.

King was star of the show in the draw against Premier League Brighton but just a few weeks later he was out of the team after letting his standards slip at Cheltenham and Oldham.

The 26-year-old has a Wembley appearance to play for, and possibly a summer with Wales.

Free Press Series: LEVELLER: Mickey Demetriou gets up high to scoreLEVELLER: Mickey Demetriou gets up high to score

MAGIC MICKEY

The form of Aaron Lewis has helped turn Demetriou into a goal threat – the centre-back goes into the play-offs as a contender for County’s golden boot!

The 31-year-old has been superb in the run in when doing what he is paid for with a string of star displays on the left of the defensive three.

However, he has also come up with telling contributions in the other box with a double against Scunthorpe from a Josh Sheehan corner and Dolan free-kick and the key leveller at Southend.

Demetriou used to be charged with launching the throws into the box but Lewis is now flinging in low, rapid balls.

The wing-back isn’t quite Ben Tozer but it’s a weapon that could be key against Forest Green – and County won a penalty at Nailsworth when Rovers failed to deal with a Demetriou ‘missile’.

The centre-back will hope to be on the end of a few throws in the semi-finals.

DOLAN DILEMMA (AGAIN)

County have just over a week to prepare for the first clash with Forest Green and are sweating on the availability of captain Joss Labadie, who suffered a bad cut to his knee.

The performance at Southend will have given Flynn food for thought, with Matty Dolan pushing hard for a recall.

The manager won't make big changes but must be tempted to bring back the calm midfielder-turned-defender, who is battling with Demetriou for player of the season.

If Labadie's out then it would probably be Dolan in, either in midfield or with Bennett moving forward. If Labadie recovers then it's a real headache for Flynn.