NEWPORT County AFC produced some red hot football on a cold and wet Boxing Day afternoon at Rodney Parade to see off League Two play-off rivals Plymouth Argyle.

Goals in each half from Chris Zebroski and Mark Byrne sealed a vital three points and provided the perfect response to last week’s 3-0 loss at fellow promotion hopefuls Luton Town.

County remain seventh in the table but are now level on points with the Pilgrims ahead of Sunday’s short trip to Cheltenham Town.

Exiles boss Justin Edinburgh made two changes from the side that was beaten at Kenilworth Road last Saturday, recalling Adam Chapman and handing young defender Regan Poole his first start since September.

Max Porter and Yan Klukowski made way as the Exiles boss shuffled his pack with two games in three days.

The pouring rain made controlling the ball and controlling the ferocity of tackles a little tricky but both sides went for it in a frenetic and highly entertaining opening period.

County looked to have put the loss at Luton out of their minds and started confidently, taking a deserved lead after only nine minutes.

Andy Sandell’s corner was only half cleared and the ball rebounded back to Byrne via a deflection off the referee’s stomach.

Byrne’s deep cross from the left was met almost simultaneously at the far post by the heads of Lee Minshull and Zebroski with the latter getting the final touch as it flew past visiting keeper Luke McCormack.

The Exiles should have doubled their advantage immediately as Zebroski, clearly enjoying himself against one of his many former clubs, crossed perfectly into the path of Shaun Jeffers.

But Jeffers, arriving at pace into the box with a defender in hot pursuit, somehow steered his shot wide from the penalty spot area to the disbelief of the pumped home fans.

Edinburgh’s men continued to pour forward but it was end to end stuff as Plymouth broke at speed and kept Jamie Stephens on his toes with Lewis Alessandra firing just wide from distance.

With plenty of scouts in attendance it was a good afternoon for Poole against an experienced pro in Pilgrims striker Reuben Reid.

The 16-year-old centre-back, who has already trained with Manchester United and Fulham this season, looked the part alongside his minders Darren Jones and Ismail Yakubu.

Poole’s reading of the game is one of his biggest assets and he earned roars of approval from the Amber Army as he stepped up to intercept dangerous throughballs and headed clear on several occasions.

The youngster’s inexperience sometimes showed as he was caught ball-watching but he can be very happy with only his second start in the Football League.

Behind him Stephens, who took the blame for Luton’s second goal last week, didn’t have much to do despite Plymouth enjoying more of the ball as the game wore on.

When called upon, however, he made a superb reaction save to deny Aaron Bentley what looked like a certain leveller five minutes after the break.

The visiting defender found himself unmarked with a free header eight yards from goal but Stephens clawed it away spectacularly to keep his side in front.

Rene Howe replaced Jeffers midway through the second half and could have sealed the win with almost his first touch.

Byrne played the striker in on goal but Howe took too long and his shot was blocked before Byrne fired over from the rebound.

The rain refused to relent but the pitch stood up to it remarkably well, as did the hardy travelling fans who were soaked in the open away end.

Plymouth felt aggrieved not to get a penalty 15 minutes from time as Marvin Morgan went down in the box and they should have been level when Reid blasted over following a fine solo run from Kelvin Mellor.

Star man Byrne cleared the danger at one end and then sealed the win at the other moments later as he cleverly flicked in Sandell’s corner with eight minutes left on the clock.

There was still time for Reid to smash a drive onto Stephens’ bar but this was County’s day.

County: Stephens, Jackson, Jones, Poole, Yakubu, Sandell, Chapman (Flynn, 79), Byrne, Minshull (Klukowski, 90), Jeffers (Howe, 66), Zebroski

Subs not used: Pidgeley, Owen-Evans, Crow, Collins

Plymouth: McCormack, Mellor, Cox, Norburn (Morgan, 68), Alessandra (Banton, 77), R.Reid, McHugh, Kellett, B.Reid, O’Connor, Bentley

Subs not used: Purrington, Harvey, Thomas, Allen, Bittner

Referee: Stephen Martin

Attendance: 5,020

Argus star man: Mark Byrne