NEWPORT County AFC were denied at the death by a Conor Wilkinson wonder goal after a 3-3 thriller at Walsall in League Two.

The Exiles looked set to take the spoils at the Bescot Stadium when they led in injury time thanks to a pair of Dom Telford goals.

But Wilkinson, who came off the bench to score with his first touch before scoring an own goal, sparked a pitch invasion with a superb finish from outside the box.

It was a crazy end to a bonkers second half.

County led in the fourth minute thanks to their king of the assists Ollie Cooper setting up their king of the goals.

They led 1-0 at the break before things went absolutely ridiculous.

Wilkinson levelled after 52 minutes from a corner immediately after being called from the bench but then nodded into his own net.

Matty Dolan matched his effort with a horrible shank to make it 2-2 but the Exiles responded swiftly for the second time when Telford was the fastest to react to a shot against the bar, nodding into restore the lead after 66 minutes.

County tried to protect what they had, bringing on physical players to try and deal with the Saddlers onslaught.

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Did they invite the pressure? Perhaps, but it still took an incredible strike for Walsall to get the point that their efforts undoubtedly deserved.

Frustration for the Exiles, who hit the Saddlers with a late winner in September, but it still represents a good point on the road.

County had suffered an outbreak that led to the postponement of their midweek trip to Leyton Orient but they were able to name a strong side featuring just two changes to the XI that took to the field in the 3-0 defeat at Rochdale.

Out, presumably due to being positive, were goalkeeper Joe Day and defender Mickey Demetriou and in came a pair of experienced players in Nick Townsend and Scot Bennett.

Among the subs were centre-back Priestley Farquharson, who had been out since September because of a knee injury, and forwards Lewis Collins and Alex Fisher, who missed out in Rochdale because of Covid.

Joining them on the bench was novice goalkeeper Evan Ovendale – a vote of confidence after County went with seven outfield players when Day was injured for the meeting between the sides in September – and teenage midfielder Aneurin Livermore.

The loss of Demetriou left the Exiles without their usual left-sided central defender but boss James Rowberry stuck with the 3-5-2 with Bennett a like-for-like replacement.

They were soon protecting a lead thanks to a superb finish by Telford after a Matty Dolan free-kick from near the corner flag.

South Wales Argus: OPENER: Dom Telford slots homeOPENER: Dom Telford slots home

The ball wasn’t cleared and Cooper kept his cool to find the striker down the left and he drilled in his 16th effort of a remarkable campaign.

The Exiles needed to keep the pressure on and were close to getting a buffer in the 18th minute when an Aaron Lewis cross from the left, with his right foot, just eluded Finn Azaz at the far post.

Walsall had their most threatening moment in the 23rd minute when Kieran Phillips curled just over from out on the left and then County failed to take an opportunity when Azaz couldn’t find a through ball to Courtney Baker-Richardson after a delightful Telford touch.

The Saddlers had their best period of the game after half an hour but failed to cause Townsend any stress and it was the home ‘keeper who was next called into action.

County build from the back with Bennett pinging a ball to Cameron Norman, who nodded to Telford to find Cooper.

The Swansea prospect drive towards the box and fired in a shot that was well kept out by Brighton loanee Rushworth, who then used his feet well to get rid of an Azaz cross.

County held their 1-0 lead at the break and it was deserved against a Saddlers side that failed to anything of note when on top.

Walsall started the sharper after the restart and introduced fit-again Wilkinson, who had an immediate effect to level from a corner.

The Exiles were rocking but had the lead back almost straight away when the striker went from hero to villain.

Telford was released down the right and dinked in a cross, it just eluded Azaz but Wilkinson nodded into his own net to in front of the 722-strong away contingent.

That own goal was cancelled out when Dolan showed he is very left-footed by shanking into his own net when there was nobody near him from a Walsall corner.

They weren’t level for long with Telford making it 3-2 after 66 minutes when he reacted sharply to the ball thudding against the bar, although it could have been a penalty for a foul on Aaron Lewis seconds before.

County needed a two-goal advantage but, seconds after Ryan Haynes had replaced fellow wing-back Cameron Norman, Baker-Richardson was denied by a solid block by Rushworth in a one-on-one with 15 minutes to go.

The striker was replaced by Fisher, whose presence would be welcome in both boxes, after 82 minutes then Farquharson replaced Telford for the closing stages.

County were looking to hold what they had and avoid any late drama. No such luck, the ball dribbled inches past their post with two minutes to go after a long throw caused mayhem.

Walsall had a series of near-misses – while Robbie Willmott was agonisingly close to making it 4-2 after Rushworth headed clear from outside his box – until Wilkinson scored a stunning effort with three of six added minutes gone.

The forward flicked the ball past Bennett and fired a right-footed effort into the top corner. It was no more than the hosts deserved after an absolute cracker.

Walsall: Rushworth, White, Ward (captain), Taylor, Kinsella, Osadebe, Miller, Phillips, Earing, Khan, Menayese.

Subs: Rose, Labadie, Wilkinson, Leak, Perry, Mills, Shade.

Goals: Wilkinson (2), Dolan (OG)

County: Townsend, Clarke, Dolan (captain), Bennett, Norman (Haynes 75), Lewis, Willmott, Azaz, Cooper, Telford, Baker-Richardson (Fisher 81).

Subs: Ovendale, Farquharson, Collins, Cain, Livermore.

Goals: Telford (2), Wilkinson (OG).

Referee: Rebecca Welch

Attendance: 4,946 (722 Newport)