A MUCH-CHANGED Newport County AFC side slipped to a 3-0 defeat at Grimsby Town to leave their League Two play-off hopes hanging by a thread.

Manager Michael Flynn rested three key men with an eye on Tuesday’s massive FA Cup fourth-round replay against Middlesbrough, while Scot Bennett missed out due to a virus and Robbie Willmott a dead leg.

Mark O’Brien, Dan Butler and Padraig Amond all dropped to the bench and in came David Pipe, Vashon Neufville, Matty Dolan, Keanu Marsh-Brown and deadline day loan signing Ben Kennedy.

And, despite a bright opening at Blundell Park, they were well beaten by the end and are now down to 14th in the table - 10 points below seventh-placed Exeter City, albeit with one game in hand.

Marsh-Brown and Kennedy, who were playing either side of Jamille Matt, looked lively early on and both tested Grimsby goalkeeper Sam Russell in the opening stages.

Marsh-Brown’s first effort was straight at Russell but his second, four minutes later, was blocked by former Wales international Danny Collins and Kennedy’s header from the rebound was well saved.

Nick Townsend, who continued in goal with Joe Day on the bench, was a spectator until he gathered a long-distance shot from Jordan Cook after 12 minutes.

But the hosts took the lead, slightly against the run of play, five minutes later.

It came from another Cook attempt from the edge of the area that beat Townsend and just crept inside the far post.

South Wales Argus:

The Mariners then took control of the contest and Martyn Woolford twice went close with long-range efforts, one well saved by Townsend and one drilled just wide.

Kennedy forced Russell into a fine save at the other end three minutes before the break, but Grimsby should have doubled their advantage in first-half stoppage time.

Marsh-Brown was adjudged to have bundled over Cook just inside the box but Townsend dived to his left to keep out Wes Thomas’ spot-kick.

That turned out to be more of a stay of execution than a major turning point as Cook grabbed his second with a deflected shot 11 minutes into the second half.

Flynn threw on Amond and Josh Sheehan for Marsh-Brown and Joss Labadie but the home side continued to look the most likely to score.

Townsend did well to save headers from Collins and substitute Alex Whitmore, but he was grateful to see Thomas flash a shot inches wide as the Exiles left gaps at the back in a vain attempt to salvage something from the game.

And County’s misery was complete six minutes from time when Mickey Demetriou diverted Woolford’s cross-shot past the helpless Townsend.

County: Townsend; Pipe, Poole, Demetriou, Neufville; Bakinson (Crofts, 80), Dolan; Kennedy, Labadie (Sheehan, 62), Marsh-Brown (Amond, 59); Matt

Subs not used: Day, Butler, Forbes, O’Brien

Booked: Pipe

Referee: Anthony Backhouse

Attendance: 3,712 (78 County)

Argus star man: Townsend