THIS was a game that neatly demonstrated just how close Newport County AFC are to being genuine contenders in League Two but also highlighted the flaws that could ultimately cost them a tilt at promotion.

Michael Flynn’s men made a shambolic start and trailed 2-0 after just 12 minutes as Carlisle United scored their first league goals at Brunton Park in just under eight hours of football.

And they would have had more before the break if it wasn’t for typical heroics from goalkeeper Joe Day.

But County again proved their character and remarkable powers of recovery.

Padraig Amond headed in on 39 minutes and, in a thrilling second half, they took the game to Carlisle and deservedly levelled three minutes from time through Dan Butler.

It wasn’t enough to claim a point, however, as Danny Grainger broke Exiles’ hearts with a superb stoppage-time winner to condemn them to a fourth defeat of the season.

It leaves Flynn’s men in sixth position after 17 games – seven points behind leaders Lincoln City and two behind Colchester United in the third and final automatic promotion spot.

It’s undoubtedly a great position to be in with more than a third of the campaign done and dusted but Flynn’s angry outburst after the match showed his frustration.

He feels his side could and should be in an even better position than they are and he’s threatening to jettison those who he feels are letting the side down.

“We’ve got a fantastic opportunity to do something this season and if there’s one or two, or three or four costing us then I’ll get rid of them,” vowed the Exiles boss.

“We weren’t good enough in both boxes and I’m getting fed up of saying it.

“We should have won the game but we lost it to a wonder strike. It’s frustrating.”

Defensive errors have been a problem for County all season.

Only five teams in League Two have scored more than their tally of 25 goals so far.

But only two – bottom-three clubs Notts County and Macclesfield Town – have conceded more than the 29 that Flynn’s men have.

The return of Fraser Franks from suspension will make a difference and Mark O’Brien and Scot Bennett should not be sidelined for too long.

But there are clearly underlying problems and County obviously need to be harder to break down because they cannot keep conceding at the current rate and hope to maintain a promotion push.

It’s an issue that Flynn is prepared to deal with in the January transfer window if things don’t improve because he believes this could be a special season for his side.

And there was much to admire about the visitors’ bright attacking play under the leaden Cumbrian skies on Saturday.

The returning Tyreeq Bakinson and Josh Sheehan stood out in midfield, while Amond and Antoine Semenyo were a constant menace up front and Jamille Matt made an impact off the bench.

Carlisle boss John Sheridan did not face the media after claiming victory over his former employers but coach Paul Murray was full of praise for the way County played.

“I thought they were a decent side,” said the former Queens Park Rangers midfielder.

“They passed the ball well and crossed it well and they’re probably one of the best teams that I’ve seen here.

“We were under the cosh. They got good balls into the box and they had some big units up front.

“They kept us penned in for a while and they had some opportunities – Adam Collin pulled off some good saves and they had a penalty shout.

“But we showed our character and went right to the end. The players gave their all and kept positive and thankfully we got a bit of luck to get the three points.”

County: Day; Pipe, Demetriou, Butler; Forbes (Matt, 66), Bakinson, Dolan, Willmott; Sheehan (Marsh-Brown, 85); Amond, Semenyo (Harris, 81)

Subs not used: Townsend, Foulston, Cooper, Collins

Referee: Chris Sarginson

Attendance: 3,541 (136 County)