NEWPORT County's discarded centre-back Jeff Eckhardt has voiced his disappointment at being released by the club.

The defender went from player of the year to the exit door in less than five weeks as County began preparations for Conference South.

The 38-year-old was released on Wednesday with County explaining they had to make "difficult decisions" in their preparations for next season's Confer-ence South challenge and that they could could not guarantee Eckhardt a first team starting berth.

Eckhardt said: "It is a bit disappointing because I played a major part in getting the team into the Conference Two in being joint top scorer and with my performances at the back over the last year. I was told that things would be sorted when I got back from my holidays but I spoke to the manager on Friday and I was told that I was not being kept on.

"It can't have been because I was doing badly as I picked up five player of the year awards, so I must have been doing something right.

"I was not shocked or anything, but it does seem that there is not a lot of gratitude left in football."

He added: "I think there may be financial reasons behind it and they wanted to free some money to bring in a new centre-half. That's how it works, it's just that I am used to being the person that replaces someone else."

Eckhardt has not yet decided where he will go to play his final season in football, but Merthyr Tydfil have been mentioned as well as Barry Town.

The former Sheffield United and Cardiff defender said: "I have had a chat with Merthyr but I don't know what will happen there and Peter Nicholas said that Colin Addison at Barry Town might be interested, but I haven't spoken to him yet.

"I have not been freed in 20 years of football and was hoping to go all the way through my career with that in tact. But that's football.

"I was told that they could not guarantee me first team football with Darren Jones and Scott Morgan taking the centre-back positions next season and that they did not want to take me to places like Dover with overnight stays and then not play me.

"That is fair enough because I am not prepared to do that at my stage. I want one last year of playing because I've got 30 years to sit and watch football."

Another big name being shown the door at Spytty is midfielder Gareth Phillips.

The 24-year-old has been released to make way for new signings, such as Kevin Aherne Evans, who put pen to paper on Wednesday with the promise of more to follow.

The shock departure is sure to surprise sections of the County supporters as Phillips only missed three league games all season, and that through a suspension, and was a mainstay of the side.

The club have now released both of their wide midfielders, as Steve Williams was let go last month to clear the decks for new arrivals.

Phillips joined County at the end of last season after five years as a professional at Swansea and has been capped by Wales at various levels up to under-21.