AN impressive 90 minutes from Newport County AFC counted for nothing after a calamitous first 90 seconds at Mansfield Town.
After individual errors cost County dearly at Morecambe on Saturday it was the same story at Field Mill as Justin Edinburgh’s men sank to a third straight defeat in League Two – though they certainly deserved at least a point here.
This time it was Ismail Yakubu and goalkeeper Lenny Pidgeley who were to blame as they were caught out almost straight from the kick-off, allowing Chris Clements the softest of winners for the hosts.
Edinburgh hinted at wholesale changes to his defence after the defeat at Morecambe.
But in the event he made only one in defence and one in attack.
Kevin Feely, who dropped out at the last minute at the Globe Arena, recovered from an infected toe to replace Andrew Hughes with Yakubu and Darren Jones retained.
There was still no recall for Ryan Jackson at right wing-back with Robbie Willmott and captain Andy Sandell continuing on the flanks for the Exiles.
Up front Rene Howe made way for last season’s top scorer Chris Zebroski, who partnered Aaron O’Connor.
Zebroski had predicted that this would be more of a rugby match than a football contest and there certainly were a fair few up and unders.
It wasn’t a night for lovers of the Beautiful Game and the start was very ugly for County.
After the horrors of Saturday it was the last thing they needed and the whole sorry mess unfolded almost in slow motion.
It was like a public information film from the 1970s – how not to defend.
Yakubu got caught napping in the box by Clements, whose initial shot was well saved by Pidgeley.
But the County ‘keeper let the ball squirm from his grasp under pressure from Clements and Yakubu couldn’t stop it trickling over the line.
Clements could have had a second when Feely was beaten for pace on the left and the midfielder had far too much space to pick his spot but Pidgeley kept his shot out fairly comfortably.
Jones, who was at least partially to blame for the second goal at Morecambe on Saturday, had a busy first half and began to show the kind of form that persuaded Edinburgh to bring him back to the club this summer.
He used all his experience to cut out the danger on the deck three times in the opening stages and then did well to head clear as Matt Rhead steamed in at the far post.
The visitors responded well to the early setback, winning seven corners in the first 45 minutes and 13 in total.
The impressive Mark Byrne forced Stags ‘keeper Sascha Studer into a decent save from distance and the Swiss did brilliantly to push a hooked Zebroski effort onto a post and behind.
Studer also flung himself to his right to save a Sandell free-kick at full stretch as the Exiles came right back into the game.
The pressure continued to build after the break as County earned the first in another series of corners when a Feely shot was deflected wide just before the hour.
But, for all their dominance, the Exiles’ attacks tended to break down in the final third.
At the other end Rhead blasted a great chance wide at the far post and Clements saw his goalbound effort blocked by the excellent Jones in the box, while substitute Ollie Palmer headed off target with the goal gaping in injury time.
Edinburgh had brought on Howe for Zebroski and replaced Sandell with Jackson in an effort to force the equaliser that his side’s display deserved.
Willmott, switched to left wing-back, made a superb run to the byline but his cutback was inches away from the stretching Lee Minshull.
O’Connor, who looks sharper with every match he plays, fired millimetres wide of Studer’s post after a superb passing move.
And he was again agonisingly off target with five minutes remaining as the Exiles were made to pay for a gift at one end and their profligacy at the other.
Mansfield: Studer, Sutton, Dempster, Tafazolli, Fisher (Palmer, 60), Rhead (Clucas, 85), McGuire, Heslop, Beevers, Taylor, Clements (Murray, 75)
Subs not used: Jones, Bell, Marsden, Evtimov
Booked: Heslop, Sutton, Maguire
County: Pidgeley, Willmott, Feely, Jones, Yakubu, Sandell (Jackson, 66), Minshull (Klukowski, 82), Chapman, Byrne, O’Connor, Zebroski (Howe, 66)
Subs not used: Jeffers, Hughes, Thomas, Jolley
Referee: Darren Bond
Attendance: 2,448 (98 County)
Argus star man: Darren Jones