AFTER a goalless February, Newport County AFC scored three and could have had six but poor finishing and some dreadful defending meant they had to settle for a point in a 3-3 thriller against Forest Green Rovers at Rodney Parade.

County led 3-2 until the 83rd minute thanks to a first-half hat-trick from Paul Hayes and looked set to record a first victory since January 19.

But after missing several chances to put the game to bed, the Exiles were punished for a below-par performance at the back as substitute Lee Collins rescued a point for the visitors.

Hayes looked like being the match-winner after he replaced Frank Nouble up front and claimed the first hat-trick of his career in his first start for County.

A Dan Butler own goal had put Rovers ahead early on and the left-back then appeared to have scored at the right end to level but Hayes got the final touch with his head.

And the 34-year-old bagged two more either side of an equaliser for the visitors in an action-packed first half.

But the late leveller means Flynn’s men have now gone nine games without a win in all competitions and their fading play-off hopes have taken another big hit.

County started as they meant to go on with Padraig Amond and Hayes forcing Rovers goalkeeper Bradley Collins into a smart double save inside the first 40 seconds.

Mark O’Brien then somehow headed wide from Matty Dolan’s corner and it was very much against the run of play when they fell behind in unfortunate circumstances in the sixth minute.

Haydn Hollis whipped in a cross from the left for Christian Doidge but the Newport-born front man couldn’t get his head to the ball and it bounced off Butler’s knee and beyond the helpless Joe Day.

Rather than curse their luck, however, the Exiles poured forward and Butler made amends within three minutes.

The ball fell to the left-back on the edge of the box and he curled a delightful right-foot shot that was helped into the far corner of the net by Hayes.

That encouraged County to keep attacking the visitors’ vulnerable defence and Hayes went down under pressure in the box but referee Christopher Sarginson dismissed the half-hearted penalty appeals.

Collins then denied Robbie Willmott with a superb point-blank save and, after a succession of corners, the hosts forged ahead for the first time in the 17th minute.

South Wales Argus:

Butler was again at the heart of the action as he headed goalwards and Hayes was in the right spot to nod the ball over the line from close range.

Mickey Demetriou volleyed wide from the edge of the area soon afterwards but, as good as they were going forward, Flynn’s men looked anything but rock-solid at the back.

Day saved from Chris Clements but couldn’t hold the shot and Ben White produced a stunning last-ditch tackle to prevent a certain goal for Doidge on the rebound.

But the reprieve lasted a minute at most as Rovers were awarded a dubious-looking second corner and Reuben Reid’s attempted shot fell perfectly for the unmarked Gavin Gunning to fire into the bottom corner at the far post.

Again County responded well with Dolan curling a shot just wide from 20 yards before Hayes struck again six minutes before the break to restore their lead.

It was another poacher’s goal for the veteran front man as he tucked in the rebound after a powerful volley from O’Brien – almost a repeat of his Great Escape goal – was brilliantly saved by Collins.

It was no less than the hosts deserved for a much-improved attacking display but they very nearly went in level at the break.

Butler misjudged a long ball from Collins and the lively Alex Bray had Day worried with a vicious drive that fizzed just over the angle of post and bar.

After such a breathless 45 minutes, the second half couldn’t match the first for incident and it didn’t.

County certainly had the chances to make it a much more comfortable evening but they struggled to kill off relegation-threatened Rovers.

Willmott, who was enjoying his best game for a number of weeks, saw another effort deflected just wide and Demetriou went agonisingly close on two occasions but the game remained on a knife-edge.

Knocks for Hayes and O’Brien forced Flynn into action and he sent on Marlon Jackson and Emmanuel Osadebe in their place.

Jackson wasted a good chance to wrap up the points before Collins poked in off the post for Rovers and, despite the late introduction of Josh Sheehan, County couldn’t find a winner.

County: Day; White, O’Brien (Osadebe, 69), Demetriou; Pipe, Dolan, Tozer, Butler; Willmott (Sheehan, 85); Hayes (Jackson, 66), Amond

Subs not used: Bittner, Reid, McCoulsky, Collins

Booked: Butler

Referee: Christopher Sarginson

Attendance: 2,862

Argus star man: Hayes