THIS was, in so many ways, a game of two halves for Newport County AFC.

A brilliantly entertaining cup tie but also a reminder of the importance of the league – County don’t want to go back to places like Braintree on a regular basis.

The Exiles were dire in the first half and excellent after the break – they didn’t create a single chance in the first period but could have had five or six in the second.

Manager Justin Edinburgh welcomed back Harry Worley and Christian Jolley, included Tony James and Ryan Burge on the bench and also recalled David Pipe, Mike Flynn and Danny Crow but then lost Chris Zebroski with what looks like another serious injury.

Edinburgh’s men will be happy to remain in the FA Cup but disappointed not to have finished the job at the first time of asking.

The replay – at Rodney Parade on Tuesday, November 19 – was welcome after a dreadful first half showing but also the last thing County wanted with a ridiculous number of players on the treatment table.

A draw was probably a fair result, both for Braintree’s early dominance after Chez Isaac’s superb ninth-minute opener and their incredible defending at the death, but County really should have won it.

Edinburgh tried out a 3-4-3 formation with Worley, Billy Jones and Ismail Yakubu at the back, Pipe and Tom Naylor joining Flynn and Adam Chapman in the middle and Jolley linking up with Crow and the unfortunate Zebroski up top.

It didn’t work in a dispiriting first 45 minutes on a damp and dreary Essex afternoon but that had more to do with a lacklustre performance rather than a new system.

Another FA Cup shock to rank alongside recent losses to Paulton Rovers and Yate Town seemed to be on the cards as County failed to trouble home goalkeeper Nik Hamann.

At the other end Lenny Pidgeley had no chance with Isaac’s long distance stunner and was kept busy thereafter with Kenny Davis, Sean Marks and Dan Holman a constant menace.

Pidgeley was also thankful to the ever-reliable Yakubu for two brave blocks from Holman that prevented the tie from being over before the Exiles had got going.

The Iron sensed blood. The Exiles needed to show their mettle. Things could only get better for Edinburgh’s men and they did.

A strong half-time ‘discussion’ and a slight tweak to the formation with Pipe moving wide right and Naylor over to the left had the desired effect.

Naylor levelled five minutes into the second half as he just climbed above defender Ryan Peters on the far post to head home Chapman’s perfect cross.

Chapman started to take charge of the midfield and it’s no exaggeration to say that he and Naylor could both have claimed a hat-trick if luck was on their side.

The former Oxford man forced Hamann into a smart save with a well struck half volley and he and Naylor both had goalbound efforts blocked in the box before Zebroski hit the post.

Flynn then clipped the bar before Chapman and Naylor were both denied by scarcely credible goalline clearances from Dean Wells.

And Hamann saved brilliantly from Flynn’s header right at the end but Pidgeley also kept his side in the cup with top stops from Newman Carney’s fizzing free-kick and a great breakaway resulting in a Holman bullet heading for the bottom corner.

So Edinburgh and Alan Devonshire – two men who won this famous old competition as players – will pit their wits against each other again next week.

That replay comes after Tuesday’s Johnstone’s Paint Trophy area quarter-final against Portsmouth and Friday’s League Two clash with Hartlepool United.

All three matches are at home in what promises to be another busy week at Rodney Parade but the Exiles will take that when the alternative was being dumped out of the cup.

Braintree: Hamann, Peters, Carney, Wells, Massey, Isaac (Sparkes, 90), Paine, Davis, Mulley, Marks, Holman (Cox, 90)

Subs not used: McDonald, Quinton, Daley, Enver-Marum, Griffiths

County: Pidgeley, Jones, Yakubu, Worley, Pipe, Naylor, Flynn, Chapman, Crow, Zebroski (Jackson, 81), Jolley (Washington, 71)

Subs not used: Stephens, James, Burge, Redman

Booked: Chapman, Flynn

Scorers: Chez Isaac (9) Tom Naylor (50)

Referee: Graham Horwood

Attendance: 1,004 (123 County)