IN its own macabre way, Saturday’s loss at Rochdale did represent another box ticked for Newport County AFC in their first season back among football’s elite.

The Exiles had played 13 games prior to this international weekend, 10 in the League and three in the cups, handily against teams in League One, the Championship and the Premier League.

It’s been easy wax lyrical in that time, because in each and every contest, the Exiles have been either impressive or competitive.

At Spotlands on Saturday, that run came to an end. Sadly for their travelling supporters, this weekend ticked the box of horrible afternoon for all concerned.

The Exiles were miles below the standards they’ve set and to make matters worse for them, the hosts were excellent.

County’s Mike Flynn, no stranger to this level of football, described the hosts’ first half performance as the best he’s ever seen in League Two.

It’s an outlandish claim, but not entirely without merit. Every competitive side in League Two is fit, well-drilled and physically strong, but Rochdale played with fluidity and pace and they did it very well.

Graham Cummins, Gary Dicker, Ian Henderson, Matthew Lund and particularly Peter Vincenti all caught the eye and Dale ripped the Exiles open on numerous occasions. Only the prowess of Lenny Pidgeley prevented an even bigger scoreline.

In midfield they were brighter and quicker than County and when Vincenti rocketed in a beauty from 25-yards after only five minutes, Dale grew in confidence as Newport wilted.

Make no mistake, this was Newport's worst performance since Forest Green destroyed them on New Year's Day. It wasn't the Exiles we've become used to seeing.

The Exiles’ answer to the hosts dominance was to resort to long balls and Danny Crow, isolated with Chris Zebroski and Robbie Willmott forced deeper and deeper, couldn’t get the ball to stick.

Only from set-pieces did Newport physical dominance come into play, but Harry Worley and Lee Minshull both failed to test the goalkeeper with headed chances.

Cummins should have added to Rochdale’s advantage but blazed over but the second goal seemed inevitable and arrived on 37 minutes, Jamie Allen smashed the crossbar and the rebound fell kindly to Cummins.

Edinburgh rolled the dice and went for broke with an ambitious 4-2-4 line-up after the interval and made two tactical substitutions, but Rochdale’s supremacy continued with the scoreline comfortable.

Both sub Ryan Jackson and then Pidgeley denied Henderson twice in thirty seconds with last ditch interventions and Cummins missed an absolute sitter just before the hour, dragging wide on the turn from just six yards out.

The Exiles were doing nothing other than stemming the tide but when their moment arrived to change the pattern of the game, they wasted it.

So many long balls were aimless but that didn’t prevent sub Conor Washington from latching onto one of them, bursting clear of his marker Jack O’Connell who clipped his heels, the referee well placed to give the penalty.

Newport had been down and out and could’ve been 5-0 down but suddenly had the opportunity to half the arrears, but Adam Chapman’s tame effort summed up their afternoon.

With his smart stop goalkeeper Josh Lillis had all but endured victory but Rochdale’s final goal came from a truly unlikely source, David Pipe’s misjudged attempt at finding his goalkeeper allowing sub Bastien Hery to score with almost his first touch.

There was still time for Henderson to hit a post and a fourth wouldn’t have flattered the hosts, but County heard the final whistle only three down, the first time this season where the end of a contest has been such a relief.

Rochdale: Lillis, Rafferty, Rose, O’Connell, Lancashire, Dicker, Lund (Done 84), Allen (Hery 70), Henderson, Cummins (Donnelly 84), Vincenti

Subs not used: Thomson, Bennett, Eastham, Bunney

Booked: None

County: Pidgeley, Pipe, Hughes (Jackson 46), Worley, Yakubu, Chapman, Flynn (Washington 46), Minshull (Naylor 70), Crow, Zebroski, Willmott

Subs not used: Stephens, James

Booked: Hughes, Chapman

Referee: Steven Rushton (Staffordshire)

Attendance: 2530