A THRILLING first-half performance was enough to see off a resurgent Northampton Town at Rodney Parade as Newport County AFC kept pace with their League Two promotion rivals.

Goals from Josh Sheehan, Jamille Matt and Padraig Amond set County on course for victory and ensured they climbed up to fourth in the table, level on points with third-placed Colchester United and three points off second spot.

It was an excellent response to the disappointment of Saturday’s defeat at Cheltenham Town and an impressive win against a side unbeaten in five in the league.

Manager Michael Flynn promised changes and he made three with Mark O’Brien, Andrew Crofts and Sheehan replacing Cameron Pring, Charlie Cooper and Antoine Semenyo.

Crofts, making his first start since August, reclaimed the captain’s armband from Mickey Demetriou and he and Sheehan made an almost immediate impact in midfield.

Crofts combined with Dan Butler to tee up Sheehan on the edge of the box and the former Swansea City youngster beat David Cornell, another ex-Swan, with a brilliant curling effort into the bottom corner to put County ahead after just five minutes.

It was the perfect start for Flynn’s men but it was too good to be true and Andy Williams quickly levelled for the visitors in controversial circumstances.

Referee Andy Davies infuriated County by halting a promising attack after a Cobblers defender took a ball to face, which led to a rarity in modern football – the contested drop-ball.

And the Exiles again felt aggrieved when Sam Hoskins was awarded a contentious free-kick on the right touchline.

But the defending left a lot to be desired as they failed to deal with David Buchanan’s ball into the box and Williams was afforded too much time and space to fire past Joe Day from eight yards out.

To their credit, however, the hosts used that sense of injustice as a positive and they continued to take the game to Northampton.

Tyreeq Bakinson sent a half volley just wide from distance and Butler saw a dangerous effort blocked before Matt’s close-range header was claimed by Cornell at the second attempt.

And they deservedly reclaimed the lead on the half hour as Butler’s free-kick was headed back across goal and bundled in on the line by Matt for his 12th of the season (below).

South Wales Argus:

And it was 3-1 within three minutes as County took control of the game with a superb flowing move down the left flank.

Bakinson broke clear and teed up Amond and the Irishman produced a fabulous finish, surprising Cornell by firing first time into the top corner.

Rodney Parade roared its approval and it looked like being a relatively comfortable night for the men in amber.

But some nervy defending at the other end kept the Cobblers interested.

Williams was allowed a free header but couldn’t keep his effort down and Demetriou almost scored a spectacular own goal but his lobbed back-pass from 35 yards was coolly controlled on the chest by Day.

The second half failed to live up to the first 45 minutes but the scrappy nature of the contest suited County, who were rarely threatened by Keith Curle’s men.

The visitors introduced Billy Waters and Daniel Power but the Exiles, inspired by Crofts in the heart of midfield, worked hard to contain them.

Matt almost added a fourth goal 18 minutes from time when he was released by the excellent Bakinson but Cornell was out quickly to smother the danger.

But three goals were enough in the end and Flynn’s men saw out the game comfortably to claim a crucial three points.

County: Day; Franks, O’Brien, Demetriou; Pipe, Crofts, Bakinson, Butler; Sheehan; Amond, Matt (Semenyo, 83)

Subs not used: Townsend, Foulston, Pring, Cooper, Collins, Harris

Referee: Andy Davies

Attendance: 2,730 (214 Northampton)

Argus star man: Crofts