NEWPORT County AFC's winter of discontent is made even more painful by the contrast with autumn exhilaration, yet a trait from their purple patch can help reignite their promotion bid even if the expansive style must be ditched.

The Exiles went top of League Two on the afternoon of October 24 when they beat Bradford at Valley Parade, a position that they held at Christmas and on New Year's Day.

County started the season with a draw at Scunthorpe United but followed that with wins against Barrow, Bolton and Mansfield.

A disappointment at Cambridge was followed by five successes on the spin against Tranmere, Stevenage, Bradford, Colchester and Harrogate.

The Exiles were playing with a swagger but also defending solidly to take 25 points from a possible 30 in September and October.

When combined with Carabao Cup upsets against Swansea and Watford, it was understandable why supporters were daring to dream of League One after heading into the campaign with survival as the prime target.

Playmaker Josh Sheehan became a Wales international off the back of County's start while loan stars Brandon Cooper and Scott Twine were superb, ultimately too good given that their form led to January exits.

South Wales Argus:

Newport were playing glorious football yet a common theme of post-match press conferences was manager Michael Flynn's gripe that they had been wasteful in success.

It's never easy with County this season, rarely are the final stages comfortable.

Just four of 26 League Two games have been settled by more than a goal – the 2-0 win at Bolton in September, 3-0 success at Bradford in October, 2-0 triumph at Grimsby and 4-2 home loss to Oldham, which featured two late Latics strikes.

County have been on the right side of tight tussles nine times, shared the spoils seven times and been edged out on six occasions.

Flynn's side made a habit of leaving for something to show for their efforts and were also, perhaps due to their league position giving a boost of confidence, able to strike late.

Matty Dolan's penalty against Mansfield, Padraig Amond's prodded finish versus Colchester, Brandon Cooper's header against Harrogate, Kevin Ellison at the death versus Port Vale, Dolan again from the spot versus Morecambe - five times County turned one point into three with the clock in the 80s or past 90.

South Wales Argus:

In Salford, Sheehan grabbed a point by holding his nerve from the spot in injury time.

It's here where Flynn's level-headed approach to the season can help – the boss was not getting giddy in the autumn and he is disappointed but not depressed at the moment.

Sporting teams frequently talk about the fine margins and momentum yet are loathe to discuss luck.

County had the rub of the green in the first half of the season and it's deserted them at the moment.

Flynn, his staff and his players are not daft, they know that performances have been poor of late, but they also recognise that it won't take a dramatic change to tip the balance in their favour.

This doesn't have to be a terminal slide, County are still right in the promotion mix and it doesn't need radical surgery to stay in the fight with 20 games to go in 12 weeks.

Their games have been tight all season and Flynn said post-Southend that he expects that to remain the case in Newport due to a Rodney Parade pitch that makes it tough to be inventive.

"It's hard to create things on that pitch," he said. "It's the same for both teams, I know that, but we lost too many balls in midfield and we've got to take our chances when they come because they will be few and far between."

Look back at those late goals from the first half of the season – three penalties and three from corners.

Set pieces will be key in this run-in, as will those that come off the bench given the frequency of tight games and the ability to use five substitutes.

Some rugby teams have an annoying habit of labelling those on the bench as finishers, keen to stress that it's a squad game.

The same applies for County with the six outfield players that suffer disappointment at being overlooked for a start having to be prepared to make a telling contribution at the death.

County weren't thumping teams, nor are they being thumped. Fine margins hold the key to being in the running for promotion.