NEWPORT County AFC missed the chance to go second in League Two after being stunned by Southend United at Rodney Parade.

The only goal of the game was a deflected free-kick by Tom Clifford in the 75th minute, his shot wrong-footing goalkeeper Nick Townsend.

In a poor-quality game, the Exiles then had three chances to level only for Josh Sheehan, Ryan Taylor and Nicky Maynard to fluff their lines.

READ MORE: Michael Flynn's post-match verdict

Here are the talking points from a frustrating evening in Newport…

FRONT RUNNERS

The weekend win over Grimsby showed the importance of getting in front on the testing Rodney Parade surface.

It probably would have been a comfortable night against a Shrimpers side struggling at the bottom had Maynard taken a half-chance in the first half or the lively spell after the resumption led to an opener.

Alas, instead Southend grew in confidence and lived off County’s frustration before Clifford’s fortunate free-kick.

Then came the poor finishing, Sheehan and Taylor missing the target and Maynard having a scuffed one-on-one blocked, that cost the Exiles a point.

South Wales Argus: DENIED: Nicky Maynard's late shot was savedDENIED: Nicky Maynard's late shot was saved

LACK OF CREATION

With 83 minutes on the clock at Fratton Park on Tuesday, Scott Twine was given a cameo with Swindon 2-0 down.

It was his seventh appearance for the Robins since being recalled from his loan spell but John Sheridan has used him off the bench for the last two fixtures.

Perhaps the promising prospect is not the man for a League One relegation scrap but he was certainly the man for a League Two promotion push.

At the start of the season it was Twine having a dig from distance or finding a space between the midfield and defence, or whipping in a dangerous ball.

He’s gone, get over it… but it’s so tough when you see what County are lacking.

Twine was so frequently the difference in one-score games and since the turn of the year the Exiles have been lacking a spark.

Perhaps he would have also struggled to create on the deteriorating Parade pitch but the 21-year-old was the linkman.

County’s problem isn’t necessarily the lack of a killer streak up front but the absence of chances, and that is likely to be a theme of the run-in on home soil/sand.

South Wales Argus: NEW BOY: Anthony Hartigan is yet to setle in Newport's midfieldNEW BOY: Anthony Hartigan is yet to setle in Newport's midfield

MIDFIELD MESS

A Josh Sheehan, Anthony Hartigan and Jack Evans midfield would have been sensational on the pristine Parade pitch in September.

It wasn’t so effective on the sand and mud that was turning hard as the perishing night continued.

When Matty Dolan limped off the absence of the suspended Joss Labadie and Scot Bennett became clear.

County missed a physical presence to break things up and provide some midfield balance.

Labadie was daft to get send off at Oldham but has to come straight back into the starting line-up, getting a swift shot at redemption.

STICK IN THERE

It’s hard not to feel worried about County’s season imploding but they just have stay in the fight.

The madness of this season is shown by the fact that second-placed Forest Green could drop out of the play-off spots if they lose on Saturday.

Mansfield are in the bottom half but could be in the mix for automatic promotion while I still fancy Salford City to consistently get it right at some stage and go on a big push.

Carlisle are in a strong position but are yet to start the second half of their campaign with just 12 weeks to go. At this rate they will have to do matinee midweek performances before evening kick-offs.

It is possible to sink like a stone in this congested League Two table but one consistent charge, one month of excellence, could put one of the top-half clubs within touching distance.

Port Vale on Saturday is rightly their focus but that is followed by home fixtures against seventh-placed Exeter and second-placed Forest Green Rovers.

County’s results were brilliant in September and October but steadiness, with the odd dour draw, would do for now.

Look way down the line and you will see that four of their last six fixtures of the season are against Carlisle (H), Cambridge (H), Exeter (A) and Cheltenham (H).

If County can hover around the play-offs then they could be in control of their promotion fate, and we have seen how good they can be in big occasions.

Forget about performance, getting to that stage is key and they cannot afford many results like Tuesday night.