MICHAEL Flynn labelled it a ‘cup final’ as his Newport County AFC side looked to keep their League Two play-off hopes alive, but they suffered late heartbreak at Northampton Town.

County missed a host of chances before substitute Joe Powell won it for Keith Curle’s Cobblers with a super strike in the 88th minute to send the Sixfields crowd into raptures.

It also sent the hosts above the Exiles and leaves Flynn’s men with a mountain to climb if they are to trouble the top seven with 10 games to go.

Tyreeq Bakinson replaced Ade Azeez in the one change from Saturday’s 3-0 defeat at Colchester United.

But County looked a completely different team as they took the game to the Cobblers in the opening stages.

Mark O’Brien did well to block a Ben Hoskins effort early on and Joe Day produced a fine reflex save to deny Daniel Powell from the corner.

But the Exiles soon began to create chances of their own with Joss Labadie seeing two shots blocked before Dan Butler’s clipped free-kick just evaded Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt in the middle.

Matt then headed against the bar from Robbie Willmott’s cross. David Buchanan cleared behind and Labadie blazed over from the resulting corner.

Flynn’s men were growing in confidence and Amond saw another effort blocked before Bakinson blasted a shot into the side netting.

Amond then did brilliantly to release Matt through the middle with a sublime touch from a high ball, but his strike partner dragged his shot wide from 20 yards out.

There was a big let off at the other end, however, when Charlie Goode’s cross hit Labadie’s hand in the box and referee Antony Coggins waved play on before Day tipped an Andy Williams effort over the bar.

That marked a change in momentum as the hosts ended the half on top.

Williams chipped the ball in two minutes before the break but the striker had already been penalised for a shove on Mickey Demetriou.

Day then came to the rescue again as he saved with his feet to prevent Daniel Powell from opening the score.

Ash Taylor nearly headed in from the corner but his effort was a yard wide and the visitors made it to half-time on level terms.

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Day had to be alert again six minutes into the second half as he stuck up a strong left arm to keep out a stinging Williams drive and Willmott tracked back to make a couple of key clearances under pressure.

At the other end Amond was only inches away with a header from Regan Poole’s cross on 66 minutes and O’Brien sliced wide three minutes later.

Bakinson diverted a Powell shot behind before launching a quick counter-attack after being released by Day.

That led to a series of corners, which ended with Matt volleying over from inside the area as another chance went begging.

Former County favourite Sam Foley then pounced on a rare mistake from Scot Bennett but his decision to attempt to lob Day from 50 yards proved hopelessly optimistic.

It had developed into a tense end-to-end contest and Bakinson nearly got on the end of Amond’s cut-back but Buchanan was in the right place to clear the danger.

It looked as if both teams would have to settle for a point but substitute Powell broke County hearts with almost his first touch as he thumped home a cruel winner two minutes from time.

County: Day; Poole, O’Brien (McKirdy, 90), Demetriou; Willmott, Bennett (Azeez, 90), Bakinson, Butler; Labadie (Sheehan, 90); Amond, Matt

Subs not used: Townsend, Pipe, Forbes, Marsh-Brown

Booked: Labadie

Referee: Antony Coggins

Attendance: 4,064 (98 County)

Argus star man: Day