NEWPORT County AFC remain in the Football League after a dramatic evening at a raucous Rodney Parade.

The Exiles beat Notts County 2-1 thanks to an 89th-minute winner from defender Mark O’Brien.

Hartlepool United fought back to edge past Doncaster Rovers 2-1 but O’Brien’s fine finish sent the Exiles fans into ecstasy and condemned Pools to non-league football.

While there was pain for the North East club and their supporters in front of the Sky TV cameras, the majority of the 7,500 crowd in Newport and many more who couldn’t get a ticket will be partying long into the night.

There will be sore heads aplenty around the city tomorrow after Survival Saturday lived up to its billing and Michael Flynn’s men completed the Great Escape.

County were 11 points from safety with just 12 games to go when Flynn replaced Graham Westley on March 9.

Two months later they finally finished two points clear of Hartlepool, matching and maybe even surpassing the first Great Escape under Colin Addison back in 1977.

And it’s a fair bet that, 40 years from now, County fans will recall the feats of the current side just as fondly as those of Addison’s heroes.

They will remember an 89th minute winner from Joss Labadie at Crewe Alexandra and a nerveless penalty from Ryan Bird at Morecambe.

They will remember Sean Rigg’s fabulous free-kick to earn a point against Luton Town and an unlikely glut of goals from Mickey Demetriou as the Exiles edged past Crawley Town and Yeovil Town at home.

They will remember a super strike from academy graduate Tom Owen-Evans to seal a vital three points after traffic chaos at Exeter City.

They will remember Bird bundling in Mark Randall’s shot to beat Accrington Stanley.

And, most of all, they will remember this sensational season finale against the Magpies and O’Brien’s remarkable last-gasp winner.

All was going to plan for the first hour and there was no warning of the tense finale that was to come.

Sean Rigg was surprisingly dropped to the bench to allow Scot Bennett to return to the heart of a three-man defence.

And, with Alex Samuel ruled out with a hamstring injury, there was a first start of the season for Lenell John-Lewis up front alongside Ryan Bird.

John-Lewis, who sustained a serious knee injury in a pre-season friendly last July, impressed in a lively cameo off the bench at Carlisle United last week.

And, looking something of a throwback in his plain black boots, he was the Exiles’ main threat from the start.

After some scrappy, nervy opening exchanges the big striker turned his man brilliantly and then unselfishly squared for Tom Owen-Evans but Notts County midfielder Alex Howes nipped in to deny the youngster a certain goal.

At the other end former Newcastle United striker Shola Ameobi got the better of Bennett on the right of the area and cut the ball back for Robert Milsom but the midfielder sliced his shot horribly wide and out for a throw-in.

Owen-Evans then beat two men with some superb footwork in the Notts box but the academy graduate suffered a rush of blood to the head as the crowd got to their feet and he scooped his shot well over the bar.

After half an hour Demetriou drilled in a free-kick, low and hard into the box but visiting goalkeeper Adam Collin claimed easily enough.

Then came a golden 60 seconds for the Exiles as Haydn Hollis and John-Lewis tangled in the box, the assistant flagged and referee Nigel Miller pointed to the spot.

Demetriou demonstrated an admirably cool head to smash the penalty hard and high past Collin.

South Wales Argus:

News of Doncaster taking the lead in Hartlepool filtered through at exactly the same time and the sense of joy and relief was palpable as fans chanted ‘we are staying up’ all around the ground.

The fans certainly relaxed a little and the Exiles players looked to be playing with that bit more of a swagger, none more so than Mark Randall.

The former Arsenal midfielder recovered from a rib injury to start and he was in imperious form in the middle of the park.

One sublime throughball almost put John-Lewis in for a second but the flag was up for offside.

Another picked out the overlapping David Pipe in first half stoppage time and the wing-back’s stooping header forced Collin into a smart save.

John-Lewis went close again just before the hour as he set himself up for an acrobatic attempt at goal and his shot flashed just over the bar.

Notts manager Kevin Nolan threw on former Manchester United and England forward Alan Smith and Marc Bola and his side levelled within five minutes of the changes.

Bird had just gone close with a speculative effort from 35 yards and the home defence was caught out by a long ball down the middle.

Jorge Grant took advantage of some ponderous defending and reacted quickest to stab home the bouncing ball from close range on 62 minutes.

Suddenly the nerves were back in the stands and things got even more precarious as Pools levelled against Doncaster.

The margin for error was almost non-existent and fingernails were being furiously chewed as the game entered the final quarter.

And disaster struck as news spread of Hartlepool taking a shock lead at Victoria Park.

The atmosphere changed dramatically at Rodney Parade and the crowd roared the players forward in search of a winner.

It looked bleak as we entered the final two minutes of the season but there was one more twist to come.

The ball was launched into the box from the right and after a spot of head tennis it dropped invitingly for O’Brien.

The defender lashed it home like a seasoned striker to spark wild celebrations.

After five minutes of stoppage time the final whistle heralded a pitch invasion and scenes that will go down in the club’s history.

Mission accomplished!

South Wales Argus:

County: Day; O’Brien, Bennett, Demetriou; Pipe, Labadie, Randall (Rigg, 72), Owen-Evans (Williams, 84), Butler; Bird, John-Lewis (Jackson, 71)

Subs not used: Bittner, Barnum-Bobb, Nelson, Myrie-Williams

Booked: Labadie

Referee: Nigel Miller

Attendance: 7,500

Argus star man: O'Brien

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