THE shocking start to 2014 continued for Newport County AFC on Saturday as they lost their star striker and suffered a third defeat in four games.

After ending a remarkable 2013 with a 1-0 defeat at Burton Albion, the new year has certainly not been kind to Justin Edinburgh’s men.

The 3-1 reverse at Bristol Rovers was the third time the Exiles have failed to beat relegation candidates this month after defeat at home to basement boys Northampton Town and a last-gasp draw at Accrington Stanley.

One point from nine against the struggling trio has seen County slip seven points adrift of the play-off places in League Two.

And with three games already postponed at Rodney Parade and Tuesday’s home clash with Plymouth Argyle also in doubt things don’t look like getting better any time soon.

On top of all that, joint top scorer Conor Washington is on the verge of a move to League One Peterborough United.

It’s enough to make even the most optimistic fan hit the panic button.

County are clearly going through a difficult period in their first season back in the Football League and the next few weeks will be a big test of the character in the squad.

And that is an area where County supporters should have a little faith in Edinburgh and his players.

The boss and his charges have proved time and again over the past few years that when the going gets tough they can be relied upon to respond.

It is probably a little unfair to read too much into Saturday’s defeat at the Memorial Stadium coming as it did in some of the worst conditions imaginable on a football pitch.

A combination of ferocious wind, driving rain and hailstones made the first 45 minutes a farcical spectacle.

The fans, all 1,200 from Newport, were soaked but for the players it was even worse.

So strong was the wind that one of Lenny Pidgeley’s goal kicks was first stopped in its tracks and then forced into reverse with such power that the ball raced out for a Rovers corner.

It was so bad that the likes of Ryan Burge were in danger of being blown away and referee Jeremy Simpson even offered the captains the option of taking shelter in the dressing rooms.

Needless to say, Exiles skipper David Pipe was having none of that.

But just when it looked like his side had weathered the storm, literally in this case, Kaid Mohamed put the hosts in front in the third minute of time added on for injuries and lost balls.

County were actually on top at the end of the first half with Rene Howe seeing one shot tipped onto the bar by Steve Mildenhall.

The Rovers ‘keeper also saved superbly from Lee Minshull but Cardiff-born Mohamed, who played four games on loan for County under Dean Holdsworth in 2009, should have opened the scoring on 33 minutes.

And he made no mistake with his second chance on the stroke of half-time when a shot from Ollie Clarke was blocked and he slotted home the rebound with ease.

If that was harsh in County they will have been cursing their luck at the start of the second period.

After playing into the wind and rain in the first half the players were greeted by much calmer conditions after the break.

The sun even made an appearance and the Pirates were soon 2-0 ahead thanks to another Welshman in Eliot Richards.

The Wales under-19 international from New Tredegar fired into the bottom corner of Pidgeley’s net from the edge of the area to give the visitors a mountain to climb.

Howe, who had a spell on loan at Rovers in 2011, pulled one back on 57 minutes with a neat finish from close range after being set up by Burge.

And County pushed hard for an equaliser but with Christian Jolley again struggling to make an impact and no strikers on the bench, they laboured up front.

Minshull came closest to levelling when his header cannoned off a post 15 minutes from time but John-Joe O’Toole sealed the points at the death.

John Ward’s men had the better of the conditions but when Harry Worley’s clearance fell to O’Toole his perfect finish from distance was just reward for the hosts’ battling display.

Rovers: Mildenhall, Smith, Parkes, McChrystal, Brown, Lockyer, Clarke, O’Toole, Mohamed (Woodards, 85), Richards (Harding, 77), Beardsley (Harrison, 90)

Subs not used: Gough, Clarkson, Norburn, Santos

Booked: Parkes, O’Toole

County: Pidgeley, Jackson, Worley, Naylor, Sandell (Hughes, 81), Pipe, Minshull (Porter, 85), Burge, Willmott, Jolley, Howe

Subs not used: Stephens, James, Flynn

Booked: Sandell, Worley

Referee: Jeremy Simpson

Attendance: 7, 288 (1,237 County)