NEWPORT County AFC returned to the scene of one of the key victories in last season’s Great Escape from relegation and put in a better performance only to come away empty handed.

County made light of their late arrival in April to claim a deserved 1-0 win at St James Park thanks to Tom Owen-Evans’ super strike.

But, after arriving in Devon in plenty of time on Saturday, they showed how much further down the road they are as a team.

In the first half Flynn’s men completely dominated the league leaders and last season’s losing play-off finalists on their own turf.

And they were very unfortunate not to earn at least a point with some sloppy finishing, a few dodgy decisions and a moment of magic from the opposition proving the difference.

Padraig Amond and Frank Nouble again combined brilliantly in attack, just as they had against Chesterfield the week before, and could have again shared four goals between them.

Nouble struck the post with an excellent effort after the break, while Amond wasted one golden chance and saw a header cleared off the line before having a goal disallowed when the referee somehow spotted a foul on Exeter goalkeeper Chrysty Pym.

“It’s frustrating,” said Flynn afterwards. “I thought that we deserved a little bit more but you don’t always get what you deserve in football.

“And if you don’t take on board things that you’re getting told in team meetings then it will come back and bite you on the backside.”

The manager was unhappy with Mickey Demetriou for not clearing the danger before Exeter’s 58th-minute winner but credit is also due to Lee Holmes, who breezed past Matty Dolan before curling the ball expertly inside Joe Day’s far post.

The hosts improved as the game wore on and put County under a lot of pressure, with outstanding teenager Ben White clearing off the line before and after the break.

But the visitors still created big chances as Robbie Willmott blazed over just before the goal and Nouble struck the upright from 25 yards soon afterwards.

Flynn felt the full-throttle performance justified his decision to make eight changes for the Checkatrade Trophy defeat at Forest Green Rovers last Tuesday.

“I think you’ve seen the reason why I changed the team quite a lot at Forest Green – because the boys needed to put a big effort in [at Exeter],” he said.

“OK, it hasn’t worked but it wasn’t for a lack of trying and [but for] a few silly decisions [we would have got something].”

There is certainly no shame in losing to Paul Tisdale’s side, who remain unbeaten at the summit with 13 points from five games and look a good bet to challenge for promotion once again.

Can County build on their encouraging start to the season and join the Grecians in the mix at the top?

Five games is too soon to be making big judgements but on this evidence they certainly don’t look out of place in the company of the division’s top teams.

“There were some nice words from Paul,” added Flynn. “He said he thought we were a very good team. I’d rather have got the points and then said it to him but we’re moving forward.

“League tables don’t mean anything to me at this stage but we’ll just see how it goes with two home games now.”

The Exiles have a blank midweek schedule as they prepare for visits from fourth-placed Wycombe Wanderers and bottom club Cheltenham Town to Rodney Parade.

And, having won five consecutive home games for the first time since promotion, they can be confident of bouncing back from this first league defeat of the new campaign and continuing their undoubted progression.

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)