AS the clocks go back and a long cold winter creeps ever closer this was a match to warm the heart of all Newport County AFC fans.

Manager Justin Edinburgh claimed it was the best display he’s seen from his side and it’s hard to disagree.

This was football as it always should be played – fast, exciting, passionate and full of attacking intent – and the crowd at Rodney Parade lapped it up.

The ground was rocking in the second half as County took total control following Ismail Yakubu’s goal on 53 minutes – a close range header from Conor Washington’s cross to put his side 3-1 up.

And as they poured forward, roared on by the Amber Army, you sensed that the players were enjoying it too.

Washington had opened the scoring midway through the first half after a calamitous mistake from Dan Bentley.

The Southend goalkeeper rushed out to intercept Robbie Willmott’s ball forward but he missed it completely, leaving Washington the simple task of slotting into an empty net.

And the striker could have celebrated his new contract with a hat-trick if Bentley hadn’t been driven to redeem himself with a series of spectacular saves.

After replacing the injured Tony James, Andrew Hughes headed home in first half injury time to restore his side’s lead following Ben Coker’s terrific free-kick leveller for the visitors.

Hughes then succumbed to injury himself, seemingly a recurrence of the hamstring strain that had kept him out of the previous two games.

That was the only negative on a near-perfect day for the Exiles but the fact that his side coped so well having lost two centre-backs during the match will have pleased Edinburgh even more.

Defensively they were solid with Yakubu imperious despite the ever-changing personnel alongside him and going forward it’s no exaggeration to say the hosts could have hit Phil Brown’s side for six.

The ever-impressive Washington rattled the upright with one effort with Bentley beaten and the visiting ‘keeper was in inspired form as he denied Lee Minshull, Adam Chapman, Chris Zebroski and Willmott.

Tom Naylor also saw a header cleared off the line as the Shrimpers struggled to keep their heads above water.

And what made this display from County all the more impressive was the quality of the opposition.

Southend are an established side at this level with a former Premier League manager and this was their first defeat on the road since August.

They are clearly a talented side, likely to challenge for a play-off place this season, but on Saturday they just couldn’t get anywhere near the Exiles.

Not even the introduction of former County hero Craig Reid, who enjoyed a rousing reception from the home fans, could change the tide.

“We were undone by a good team who knew how to play the conditions better than us,” said Brown after the game.

The pitch was in good shape, relatively speaking, and the weather was perfect for football so what he meant by the ‘conditions’ is anybody’s guess.

But Edinburgh won’t care about another opposition manager making excuses for a defeat at fortress Rodney Parade.

For his part the Exiles boss finds himself once again trying to keep a lid on expectations and, just two weeks after a crushing defeat at Rochdale, that’s understandable.

But seven points from nine since that reverse is a great response and, if they keep putting in displays like Saturday’s, the players will believe they can challenge for automatic promotion let alone the play-offs.

And despite the manager’s public protestations he must be pretty excited about what his side is capable of in their first season back in the Football League.

League Two appears to be an extremely open division this year and, make no mistake, County are one of perhaps a dozen teams capable of winning promotion next spring.

County: Pidgeley, Jackson, James (Hughes, 25, Pipe, 56), Yakubu, Jones, Willmott, Naylor, Chapman, Minshull, Washington, Zebroski (Crow, 80)

Subs not used: Stephens, Flynn, Jolley, Redman

Southend: Bentley, Coker, Prosser, Corr, Atkinson, Hurst (Timlin, 56), Kiernan, Clifford (Payne, 56), Leonard, Auger, Woodrow (Reid, 68)

Subs not used: Smith, Straker, N’Jie, Edwards

Referee: Lee Collins

Attendance: 3,652