THE biggest crowd of the season for a Newport County AFC home match saw the Exiles fight back from 2-0 down to claim a point in a Sunday afternoon thriller at Rodney Parade.

Justin Edinburgh’s men looked dead and buried at the break after a controversial penalty from Tom Nichols and a super strike from Graham Cummins put the visitors in charge.

But a Yan Klukowski header and a Max Porter piledriver levelled matters within six minutes of the restart and sparked wild celebrations amongst the home fans.

It was a fantastic fightback from County and no less than they deserved after a frustrating first 45 minutes when referee Scott Mathieson came in for heavy criticism from the stands.

After a frenetic opening period Chris Zebroski had the first shot on target on 13 minutes and Grecians stopper Christy Pym had to be on top of his game to keep it out.

Zebroski cut in from the left flank and pinged an effort low and hard towards the bottom corner but Pym was equal to it with a strong left hand.

Five minutes later Cummins, who was lucky to escape punishment for striking Andrew Hughes in the stomach, wasted Exeter’s first chance as he shot high and wide of Joe Day’s goal after getting away from Ismail Yakubu.

But the atmosphere changed midway through the first half as the referee surprisingly pointed to the spot as Nichols tumbled dramatically after a challenge from County captain Darren Jones.

Nichols recovered sufficiently from his fall to hammer the penalty straight down the middle and past Day’s dive to give the visitors the lead.

The home fans were not happy at all and they made their feelings clear to Nichols and the officials.

The only chant from the Hazell Stand that is printable in a family newspaper was ‘1-0 to the referee’ and on the pitch the County players seemed to be driven on by a sense of injustice.

Zebroski smacked a shot against the bar and Ismail Yakubu hooked a half volley a yard wide of Pym’s far post as the hosts poured forward.

But that left gaps at the back and it should have been 2-0 ten minutes before the break as the impressive Christian Ribeiro caused havoc in the box.

The Welsh international burst through a couple of challenges and picked out Cummins at the far post but the striker somehow scooped his shot over Day’s bar from a few yards out.

The Irishman certainly made amends five minutes before the break, however.

Cummins picked up the ball from Matt Grimes wide on the left of the box and unleashed an unstoppable right foot effort that curled into the top corner to put his side in charge.

Edinburgh called on Adam Chapman for the second half in place of Lee Minshull in the hope of finding a spark from midfield.

And whatever the Exiles boss said to his men at half-time worked a treat as they showed their tremendous spirit once again.

First Klukowski managed to get on the end of a Ryan Jackson long throw and head in at the near post to give County hope on 49 minutes.

Then just two minutes later Porter hammered the ball low and hard past Pym from the edge of the area and Rodney Parade erupted.

The fans thought Yakubu had won it soon afterwards but his header inside the six-yard box was too easily held by Pym.

At the other end Grimes struck a free-kick against the upright but both sides had to settle for the draw in the end after an engrossing encounter.

The point leaves County ninth in the table, three points off the play-off places ahead of next week’s trip to fifth-placed Bury.

County: Day, Jackson (Pigott, 77), Yakubu, Jones, Hughes, Obeng, Porter, Minshull (Chapman, 46), Klukowski, O’Connor (Loveridge, 90), Zebroski

Subs not used: Pidgeley, Feely, Tancock, Patten

Exeter: Pym, Butterfield, Woodman, Bennett (Keohane, 53), Ribeiro, Sercombe, Oakley, Grimes, Noble (Wheeler, 77), Nichols, Cummins

Subs not used: Hamon, Riley-Lowe, Tillson, Jay, Watkins

Referee: Scott Mathieson

Attendance: 4,070

Argus star man: Klukowski