NEWPORT County AFC suffered a blow to their League Two play-off hopes as two late goals from Exeter City settled an entertaining encounter at St James Park.

The 599 travelling County fans enjoyed the Easter Monday sun but, Devon knows, they're miserable now after watching their side let a precious point slip through their hands in the battle for a top seven spot.

Despite enjoying success with 5-3-2 in recent weeks, manager Jimmy Dack reverted to the 4-4-2 formation that had earned victories at Wycombe Wanderers and Burton Albion in February.

And, even though his side had the chances to win, it didn’t work the same magic as a nightmare final 15 minutes saw the Exiles slip to a damaging defeat.

There were three changes in personnel from the Good Friday fightback at home to Hartlepool United.

In came 16-year-old Regan Poole at right-back, Adam Chapman in midfield and Shuan Jeffers up front, with David Tutonda, Lee Minshull and Miles Storey making way.

County started brightly on a beautiful afternoon and their best early chance came from a defence-splitting ball by Chapman.

Jeffers took the ball too wide to shoot and his chipped cross was clawed out by home ‘keeper James Hamon and eventually fell to Mark Byrne but his shot was well blocked by Jordan Taylor-Moore.

But the hosts slowly started to impose themselves and they nearly broke the deadlock midway through the first half.

Joe Day came out and failed to claim an in-swinging Liam Sercombe corner from the left and was relieved to see Graham Cummins’ header drift just beyond his far post.

The same combination almost worked again for the Grecians minutes later as Cummins’ headed another Sercombe corner into the side netting at the far post.

Day was tested again five minutes before the break and the County ‘keeper did well to keep out Lee Holmes’ stinging drive and push it away to safety.

And the chances kept on coming for the hosts as substitute Craig Woodman picked out Cummins with a cross from the left.

But the Exeter striker missed his third good opportunity of the opening half as he rose unchallenged and put a free header well wide.

That was a big let off for Dack’s men but they responded well and ended the half on top with two chances of their own in stoppage time.

First Yan Klukowski hit a long ball forward and Aaron O’Connor did superbly to pluck it out of the bright blue sky but his flicked effort was easily kept out by Hamon.

Then Jeffers slipped Klukowski in on goal with a clever slide rule pass and the midfielder, released from many of his defensive duties, beat Hamon but saw his shot scrape the post and rebound to safety.

Byrne, pushed out wide to the right to accommodate Chapman’s return, had a sight of goal five minutes after the break.

But, rather than breaking the back of the net, his blasted effort was in danger of breaking the windows in the street behind Hamon’s goal.

At the other end that man Cummins was in the thick of the action again as he got in the way of a Chapman clearance and watched the ball drop just over Day’s bar.

And dangerman Sercombe went close again with a chipped effort from the right that Day was grateful to usher behind for a goal kick.

But Darren Jones and Ismail Yakubu were dealing with everything the hosts could throw at them in the centre of defence.

And Yakubu was a threat in attack as well, twice going close from Chapman crosses after venturing up field for a long throw.

The centre-back looked set to volley home from Chapman’s chipped centre but was denied by the studs of an Exeter defender.

And from the resulting corner Chapman again picked him out at the far post but his header was just over the top and the home side survived.

County came even closer shortly afterwards as a quickly taken free-kick from substitute Chris Zebroski released Byrne but he was denied by the quick reflexes of Hamon.

But, just as it looked as if both sides would have to settle for a point apiece, the killer blow arrived from the hosts.

Substitute Clinton Morrison, the former Irish international, rolled back the years as he rolled in fellow sub David Wheeler.

He beat Andy Sandell for pace but Day seemed to have the shot covered and it was a shock to see the ball squirm through his legs and creep into the net.

And it got worse at the death as the excellent Yakubu was sent off for bringing down Wheeler in the box and Ryan Harley fired in from the spot to put the result beyond doubt.

Defeat for Plymouth Argyle at Portsmouth means County are still in the top seven but there is no margin for error as they take on fourth-placed Bury at Rodney Parade on Saturday and visit  fifth-placed Southend United next Tuesday.

Exeter: Hamon, Ribeiro, Sercombe, Oakley, Davies, McAllister (Woodman, 10), Moore-Taylor, Holmes, Nicholls (Wheeler, 67), Cummins (Morrison, 67), Harley

Subs not used: Pym, Butterfield, Bennett, Keohane

Booked: Harley

County: Day, Poole, Jones, Yakubu, Sandell, Byrne (Storey, 82), Porter, Chapman (Minshull, 90), Klukowski, Jeffers (Zebroski, 66), O’Connor

Subs not used: Stephens, Feely, Flynn, Tutonda

Booked: Byrne

Sent off: Yakubu

Referee: Gavin Ward

Attendance: 4,478 (599 County)

Argus star man: Ismail Yakubu