NEWPORT County AFC were beaten but by no means outclassed by League Two leaders Exeter City at St James Park.

Lee Holmes scored the only goal of the game in the second half as County failed to make the most of their first-half superiority.

And, despite the result, manager Michael Flynn will have been pleased with the way his side matched the perennial promotion-challengers.

Flynn made two changes from the team that started against Chesterfield last Saturday as Dan Butler and Sean Rigg were rewarded for their game-changing substitute appearances.

Out went David Pipe, who had picked up a knock in the midweek Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Forest Green Rovers, and midfielder Reece Cole.

Rigg made a big impact in support of front pair Frank Nouble and Padraig Amond with some excellent touches, clever passes and fully-committed tackles in a first half that was dominated by the Exiles.

Rigg crossed from the left after 20 minutes and Amond’s first effort was blocked and the second was smothered by Christy Pym in the Exeter goal.

Grecians captain Jordan Moore-Taylor then did well to block Rigg’s shot as it looked to be heading for the bottom corner of Pym’s net.

And Nouble’s cross from the left was skied by Amond shortly afterwards as the chances kept coming for the visitors.

Amond headed in from a Mickey Demetriou long throw but the whistle had already gone for an alleged foul on Pym.

The former Hartlepool United striker then played in Nouble, whose goalbound effort was blocked and Rigg was also denied by some dogged defending just as he was about to pull the trigger.

The hosts rarely threatened in the early stages and when they did they found Ben White in imperious form at the back for County.

The 19-year-old continues to demonstrate his top-level pedigree and he looked a class apart as he read the danger time after time and cleared up at the back for County.

And it was White who prevented the hosts from taking the lead against the run of play five minutes before the interval as he headed Jake Taylor’s shot off the line.

County went straight down the other end and this time it was Troy Brown’s turn to clear off the line as Amond sent a diving header goalwards from Nouble’s cross.

Nine minutes after the break Nouble was again the provider as he squared to allow Robbie Willmott a sight of goal but his shot was high over the bar and out of the ground behind Pym’s goal.

And just four minutes later, Exeter were ahead as Reuben Reid outmuscled Demetriou and pulled the ball back for Holmes, who cut inside and curled his shot beyond Joe Day.

The leaders, roared on by their fans, suddenly looked like scoring with every attack in the closing stages.

Reid saw a goalbound effort deflected just wide and Demetriou did brilliantly to deny Liam McAlinden.

Nouble was desperately unlucky not to net his sixth of the season midway through the second half as his powerful shot curled onto the foot of the post with Pym well beaten.

But the real threat was at the other end as the game wore on as Jordan Tillson wasted a glorious chance and Holmes was denied a second by a combination of White and the post with the home fans baying for a penalty for handball.

Flynn made a double change with Matty Dolan and O’Brien making way for Tom Owen-Evans and Cole.

Nouble, who was a handful all afternoon, saw another effort deflected wide and Owen-Evans’ shot hit the heels of Rigg as the Exiles’ day ended in frustration.

County: Day; O’Brien (Owen-Evans, 77), Demetriou, White; Willmott (Tozer, 86), Labadie, Dolan (Cole, 77), Rigg, Butler; Nouble, Amond

Subs not used: Bittner, Pipe, Bennett, Jahraldo-Martin

Booked: Rigg, Demetriou, Tozer

Referee: John Brooks

Attendance: 4,193 (343 County)

Argus star man: White