NEWPORT Count AFC’s bid for promotion suffered a huge blow after they were stunned by League Two bottom club Southend United.

The Shrimpers climbed off the basement thanks to a Tom Clifford free-kick after 74 minutes, enough to shock an Exiles side aiming to move back into the top three.

County ended an eight-game league losing streak with a narrow success against Grimsby Town on Saturday but failed to back it up at a freezing Rodney Parade.

They fell behind and then wasted three clear openings to get back on level terms with Josh Sheehan, Ryan Taylor and Nicky Maynard the guilty men.

It was a result, and performance, that will do little to ease the fears of County supporters that their dream start – top at Christmas and on New Year’s Day – will turn into a slide into mid-table.

It's now three defeats in four games with a huge fixture at Port Vale coming up on Saturday.

South Wales Argus: WRONG-FOOTED: Nick Townsend was beaten by a free-kickWRONG-FOOTED: Nick Townsend was beaten by a free-kick

The game went ahead in bitterly cold conditions, sparing Southend a second wasted trip to Newport after the late postponement of the January 2 fixture.

The ugly pitch certainly wasn’t perfect but played a lot better than against Grimsby, a fixture that kicked off less than 18 hours after the Dragons had taken on Connacht.

After Tuesday games in Carlisle and Barrow had been postponed and Scunthorpe versus Bradford was abandoned due to the conditions it was a relief that another game didn’t get added to the Exiles’ already chocker schedule.

Flynn made three changes to his line-up, rewarding Priestley Farquharson after an impressive debut off the bench with a start at the expense of Ashley Baker.

Anthony Hartigan replaced the suspended Scot Bennett in midfield and the front line was freshened up with Padraig Amond coming in for Dom Telford.

County finished with a back four against the Mariners and stuck with that against the Shrimpers, Matty Dolan in a midfield role rather than at the heart of defence.

County made a sharper start than they did against the Mariners – not saying much – with Luke Gambin whipping in some dangerous balls from out wide.

They had the first chance of the evening after 15 minutes when Amond timed his run well to neatly control a long ball and lay it off to Nicky Maynard, whose shot was blocked inside the box. It would turn out to be the only opening of the half.

South Wales Argus:

County were on top, faster to the second balls with Josh Sheehan more of an influence, but were unable to cause visiting goalkeeper Mark Oxley any problems.

The hosts were forced into a change after 27 minutes when Dolan, who had just made a burst forward, limped off and was replaced by debutant Jack Evans.

It was role reversal of the second half against Grimsby when County had a 1-0 lead and challenged the strugglers to create something.

This time it was the bottom club looking to frustrate and it was mission accomplished as they headed to the changing rooms on level terms.

Flynn and his assistant Wayne Hatswell would have called for patience and a little more quality during the break.

They also made a second change with Ryan Taylor on for Amond and providing a more physical presence up front.

County should have hit the front six minutes after the restart when Ryan Haynes whipped in a cross from the left but Farquharson failed to hit the target from a central position.

The Exiles were ramping up the pressure yet should have been behind with half an hour left when Ashley Nathaniel-George was put through on goal only for Nick Townsend to make the first save of the evening by blocking with his body.

Suddenly it was Southend having a purple patch and it took David Longe-King’s long legs to deal with a dangerous, low cross into the box before sub striker Simeon Akinola flicked a corner wide.

Flynn reacted by going on the attack, bringing on Jake Scrimshaw and Dom Telford to join fellow forwards Taylor and Nicky Maynard.

Yet they were chasing a leveller rather than an opener after Southend were awarded a free-kick 22 yards out in a central position. Full-back Clifford took and Townsend was wrong-footed.

County should have equalised with 10 minutes left only for Sheehan, usually so composed, to scuff wide from just six yards out.

Another opportunity was botched on 83 when Taylor failed to hit the target after being put in by a Maynard flick on – how the Exiles could have done with the roles being reversed.

Yet the hero of the Grimsby win still had a chance to equalise when put in by sub Dom Telford only to be denied by Oxley, making it a frustrating night after the relief of Saturday.

County: Townsend, Farquharson, Longe-King, Demetriou, Haynes (Lewis 82), Dolan (Evans 27), Hartigan, Sheehan (captain), Amond (Taylor 45), Maynard, Gambin (Telford 70).

Substitutes: King, Baker, Lewis.

Southend: Oxley, Bwomono, Hobson, Dieng, Clifford, Hackett-Fairchild, Nathaniel-George, Halford, Demetriou, Ferguson, White (captain).

Goal: Clifford Referee: Paul Howard