IT HAD to be Mark O’Brien! Newport County AFC got the win they needed against Oldham Athletic and it was the Great Escape hero who scored the goal that might just seal a place in the League Two play-offs.

O’Brien likes to make his goals count. His first was a last-gasp winner against Notts County to keep the Exiles in the Football League in May 2017.

His second was a thunderous strike to break the deadlock against Oldham three minutes into the second half of a tight contest at a packed Rodney Parade.

Robbie Willmott made sure of the win with a deflected effort 11 minutes from time, but it was O’Brien’s moment of magic that put his side on course for the vital three points.

It means Michael Flynn’s men are back in the top seven for the first time in 130 days and a win at Morecambe on Saturday – the final game of the regular season – will secure a play-off berth.

It was a professional job from the hosts, but the second half jubilation was a far cry from the nervy first period.

With Nigel Farage packing in the punters down the road at the Neon, it was appropriate that most of the early threat came from the right wing.

Robbie Willmott crossed for Matty Dolan in the 10th minute and his snap shot was brilliantly turned behind by Latics goalkeeper Zeus De La Paz.

Regan Poole then got in on the act as he whipped in a dangerous ball that hit visiting defender Tom Hamer and Willmott then delivered a perfect corner, which Mickey Demetriou headed onto the roof of the net.

Poole was soon the subject of Flynn hairdryer for some hesitant defending at the other end, however, as Oldham threatened on the break.

They had nothing to play for after their weekend defeat at Exeter City, but Pete Wild’s team looked determined not to let their campaign fizzle out.

Chris Missilou curled a shot wide from 20 yards and Demetriou did well to divert a Callum Lang shot behind before Hamer headed wide from the corner.

Joe Day also had to be alert to deny Johan Branger-Engone and Mark O’Brien blocked the shot on the rebound as the nerves began to fray a little around the ground.

County still threatened with Jamille Matt, who returned in place of the injured Ben Kennedy, seeing a fierce drive blocked by a flying defender.

And Willmott tested De La Paz with a long-distance effort after a trademark short corner routine.

But a long delay while Peter Clarke was treated following a clash with his goalkeeper halted their momentum.

The Oldham defender was eventually stretchered off and the Exiles managed just one shot – a wild effort from Josh Sheehan – during the seven minutes of stoppage time.

South Wales Argus:

But the tension that had been steadily building was forgotten just three minutes after the restart.

Dan Butler returned a clearance into the box and the ball was chested down by Matt into the path of the marauding O’Brien, who hammered it past De La Paz with his trusty right foot.

It didn’t quite spark the wild celebrations to match his last goal at Rodney Parade, but it wasn’t far off.

“He scores when he wants” echoed around the ground and County went for the kill as Oldham were forced into another defensive reshuffle with Mohamed Sylla replacing the injured George Edmundson.

O’Brien’s cross was poked wide by Matt under pressure before De La Paz pulled off a stunning save to keep out a Padraig Amond rocket that was arrowing towards the top corner.

There was a big scare at the other end when Oladapo Afolayan headed wide from close range.

But Willmott’s deflected strike settle matters in the 79th minute and County now turn their attention to finishing the job at Morecambe on Saturday.

County: Day; Poole, O’Brien, Demetriou; Willmott, Bennett, Sheehan, Butler; Dolan (Pipe, 90); Amond (McKirdy, 90), Matt (Azeez, 81)

Subs not used: Crofts, Bakinson, Marsh-Brown

Referee: Craig Hicks

Attendance: 4,642 (160 Oldham)

Argus star man: O’Brien