NEWPORT County AFC endured a nightmare trip to Notts County as a controversial red card for Dan Butler after just 34 minutes decisively turned the tide at Meadow Lane.

Jorge Grant helped himself to two goals and created the other for Shola Ameobi as the hosts proved too strong for the 10-man Exiles.

It already looked like being a difficult day before the kick-off for manager Michael Flynn, who was without inspirational leader Joss Labadie as well as vice-captains Mark O’Brien due to injury and David Pipe due to illness.

Sean Rigg and Robbie Willmott were the two players to come in, with Mickey Demetriou skipper for the day.

And Demetriou was instrumental to the visitors’ bright start.

The defender whipped in a dangerous cross that goalkeeper Ross Fitzsimons dropped after colliding with his captain Richard Duffy before the ball was scrambled away.

Demetriou then got his head to a Ben White cross and the ball fell for Frank Nouble but his effort was easily saved by Fitzsimons.

And Butler was almost the hero but his fierce drive was straight at the home keeper.

Notts should really have broken the deadlock midway through the first half when Jon Stead headed inches wide from Matt Tootle’s cross.

The busy Eliott Hewitt and the bustling Terry Hawkridge then both went close but failed to test Joe Day before.

Then the referee took centre stage and tilted the balance of a fairly even contest.

Craig Hicks, a late replacement for Eddie Ilderton, was already under pressure from the Magpies fans for not booking Nouble after several debateable fouls.

He gave Matty Dolan a stern warning following another dubious decision and then shocked everyone by showing Butler a red card after what appeared to be a 50-50 aerial challenge.

The Exiles defender did jump with his arms up and was adjudged to have caught Tootle with his elbow.

A yellow card would have been harsh but a red was, frankly, ridiculous.

Inevitably the opening goal followed just two minutes later as Stead played in Jorge Grant and the number 10 coolly slotted the ball past Day and into the bottom corner.

It was almost two before the break as Hewitt’s shot was well saved by Day and Duffy threw himself to the ground but the referee did not buy the dive. Nor did he issue a yellow card.

Flynn withdrew Rigg and Padraig Amond at the start of the second half and threw on Jazzi Barnum-Bobb and super-sub Shawn McCoulsky.

But the hosts didn’t have to wait long to double their lead as Grant turned provider for Shola Ameobi to slam the ball past Day after outsprinting Ben Tozer.

That was on 52 minutes and the three points were sealed just three minutes later.

Day saved superbly from Grant’s point-blank header but the playmaker’s second effort just crossed the line and the match was over as a contest.

Nouble headed over from a Dolan free-kick before he was replaced by Lamar Reynolds.

Kevin Nolan’s men, who returned to the top of the table thanks to this win, could have further boosted their goal difference in the closing stages but they found Day in defiant mood.

His strong arm kept out Shaun Brisley’s far-post drive and the goalkeeper also denied Stead but he was grateful to the bar for preventing Grant from completing his hat-trick 10 minutes from time.

Ameobi, Hawkridge and substitutes Nicky Hunt, Jonathan Forte and Liam Walker all went close as the hosts threatened to run riot at the death but the Exiles and their 341 fans had suffered enough.

County: Day; White, Bennett, Demetriou; Willmott, Dolan, Tozer, Butler; Rigg (Barnum-Bobb, 46); Nouble (Reynolds, 74), Amond (McCoulsky, 46)

Subs not used: Bittner, Owen-Evans, Quigley, Jackson

Booked: Demetriou, Nouble

Red card: Butler

Referee: Craig Hicks

Attendance: 6,019 (341 County)

Argus star man: Day