NEWPORT County AFC began 2018 in high spirits with an impressive 2-1 win over promotion contenders Exeter City at Rodney Parade.

Padraig Amond put County ahead with his eighth goal of the season after only six minutes and Robbie Willmott won it with a long distance effort midway through the second half after Jayden Stockley had levelled for the visitors.

The win kept Michael Flynn’s men in the hunt for the League Two play-off places and ensured they ended a difficult festive period on a high.

The manager can now concentrate on adding to his squad before next weekend’s massive FA Cup third round clash with Championship giants Leeds United.

It may have been a second match in three days for the Exiles but there was no squad rotation for Flynn as he made just one change from the team that drew 1-1 at Cheltenham Town on Saturday.

Captain Joss Labadie returned from suspension to replace Tom Owen-Evans in central midfield.

Exeter made five changes but it was the hosts who looked much fresher from the off with Labadie almost making an instant impact.

The skipper flicked a Matty Dolan corner onto the post in only the second minute.

And County’s excellent high-tempo start was rewarded with the opening goal in the sixth minute as Robbie Willmott crossed from the right and Amond guided a header over Christy Pym and into the far corner of the net.

It was another expertly taken goal from the Irishman and almost as impressive as his opener at Whaddon Road 48 hours earlier.

And County will feel that they should have extended their advantage in a frenetic opening period.

Willmott, Labadie, Amond and Frank Nouble didn’t give the Exeter defence a moment to rest and there was constant pressure on Pym’s goal.

Nouble created several half chances for himself and teammates but it was Amond who went closes to doubling the lead when he latched onto another Willmott cross but his shot was well blocked by Danny Seaborne.

The visitors didn’t force Joe Day into a save until the 15th minute when he comfortably held a Ryan Harley free-kick.

And, though they came into the match as the first half progressed, Paul Tisdale’s men didn’t seriously threaten to get back on level terms before the break.

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They could also have been down to 10 men but Welshman Lloyd James escaped with a yellow card for a lunge on Mickey Demetriou.

The Exeter midfielder almost took full advantage a minute into the second half when some hesitant defending allowed him to poke a shot goalwards and he was only denied by a desperate clearance on the line from Dan Butler.

Jake Taylor fired over the bar moments later and the Exiles were punished for their sluggish start to the second half on 53 minutes.

Taylor crossed from the right for Jayden Stockley to head home the equaliser and undo all of County’s hard work before the break.

James should then have put the Grecians ahead with a free header from no more than eight yards out but his effort was well over Day’s bar.

That was a big let off Flynn’s men and after an unfortunate booking for David Pipe and an injury to Scot Bennett they regrouped and redoubled their resolve.

And they retook the lead thanks to an opportunistic strike from the impressive Willmott on 65 minutes.

The midfielder tried his luck from 25 yards and caught Pym out as his shot skidded inside the post.

That got Rodney Parade rocking again, even though Willmott bizarrely chose to celebrate in front of an empty area of the away stand behind Pym’s goal.

Day had to be alert to deal with some threatening high balls but Amond nearly added a third at the other end as his shot was palmed into the side netting by the Exeter goalkeeper.

Exeter substitute Lee Holmes forced Day into another fine save five minutes from time and a clash of heads meant there were eight minutes of stoppage time.

Day did brilliantly to deny Taylor again in the seventh minute added on and County secured a vital victory that will give them a big confidence boost as they prepare to lock horns with Leeds once again.

County: Day; Pipe, White, Demetriou, Butler; Willmott, Bennett, Labadie, Dolan (Owen-Evans, 82); Nouble (McCoulsky, 90), Amond

Subs not used: Bittner, Foulston, Tozer, Reynolds, Touray

Booked: Pipe

Referee: Robert Lewis

Attendance: 3,380

Argus star man: Willmott