IN A professional career stretching back 16 years and taking in 13 different clubs Paul Hayes had never scored a hat-trick so he was determined to fight for the match ball on Tuesday night.

The 34-year-old definitely marked his first start for Newport County AFC with two goals but the hosts’ first strike in the 3-3 draw with Forest Green Rovers was initially credited to defender Dan Butler (below).

Hayes was in no doubt, however, that he got the final touch to the left-back’s shot and that all three goals were his.

And as he spoke to the media after the match he had the ball tucked under his left arm, signed by the whole Exiles squad – including Butler.

“The first one definitely took a nick off my head,” insisted the veteran front man.

“Buts did ever so well but without me glancing it in it wouldn’t have made it into the goal so the first one’s definitely mine, followed by the other two and I’m obviously over the moon to get the three goals.

“It’s the first one of my career. I’ve scored a lot of braces but never a hat-trick so I’m taking the ball home to show the kids.”

South Wales Argus:

Hayes was delighted to be able to show the Exiles fans what he can do after waiting two months for his first start.

“I’ve been waiting a while and I’ve had to wait patiently because the boys have done really well,” he said.

“Paddy [Padraig Amond], Shawn [McCoulsky] and Frank [Nouble] have been scoring quite regularly and the team has been winning [until recently].

“I’ve had to bide my time and now the gaffer has given me the nod I’ve hopefully given him a headache.

“We’ve got healthy competition here and it’s a squad game now. We all chip in and help the team out.”

Hayes is hopeful that he will be fit to play at Yeovil Town on Saturday after being forced off with cramp in the second half on Tuesday.

He explained: “The problem is I haven’t had a start since August and that’s the longest I’ve played so the body was cramping up and getting quite sore so I didn’t want to do any damage to it.

“Precaution is obviously better than the cure and I had to look after myself.”

South Wales Argus:

Hayes says County can still challenge for a place in the League Two play-offs but he admits that they need a win to kick-start their season.

“We’ve got to believe and I think if we go on a run it’s possible,” said the former Wycombe Wanderers and Scunthorpe United favourite.

“We’re not on a good run at the moment but attacking-wise that’s probably the best we’ve played in a while [on Tuesday].

“We’ve obviously struggled a little bit going forward to create things but we created a lot of chances and scored three goals [against Rovers].

“If we keep scoring in games we’ve obviously got a chance of winning games.

“It’s in other people’s hands but all we can do is concentrate on what we can do and we need that win now,” he added.

“We haven’t won for a few games now and we have to regroup and have a final push because we’ve got nothing to lose.

“We know we need a win. You win a game and it changes everything and that’s what we need.”

South Wales Argus:

Manager Michael Flynn supported Hayes’ hat-trick claim and he was very impressed with the striker’s performance.

“It was a hat-trick for Paul Hayes – the first one definitely clipped his head – and he was absolutely outstanding,” said the Exiles boss.

“I hope he recovers in time for Saturday. I’ve said we’ve got to use him in the right way and we’ve got to make sure that his body has recovered so that he’s able to perform like that.

“When I brought him here I said he’d be crucial for us at the end of the season and he was brilliant.

“It shows why he’s had such a long career and he can teach the young players a lot about how to play the game properly. He was exceptional.”