A LATE Dom Telford goal saved Newport County AFC from the embarrassment of losing to nine-man Exeter City but it was a hugely unsatisfactory point at Rodney Parade.

It was the Grecians that showed their promotion credentials by hitting the front when down to 10 men and then almost holding on despite playing the entire second half down to nine.

County had a golden opportunity to record a significant win in their push for League One yet lacked the quality to turn it into panic stations for Exeter.

In the end they were grateful for Telford’s headed leveller from Ryan Haynes’ cross but this was not a good night for the Exiles.

It leaves them fifth in the table and ahead of the Grecians but they need to produce a big display soon - and second-placed Forest Green Rovers visit this weekend - if they are to reignite hopes of a push for promotion.

They probably would have taken a point before the game but that was not the case after first-half drama in Newport.

South Wales Argus: TRIPPED: Nicky Maynard is brought downTRIPPED: Nicky Maynard is brought down

Just eight minutes had been played when the visitors were reduced to 10 men with referee Tom Nield given an easy decision.

Nicky Maynard was put in by a ball over the top by strike partner Ryan Taylor and was clipped by last man Alex Hartridge.

County have been given four red cards recently, losing against Oldham and Harrogate after dismissals for Joss Labadie and Liam Shephard, drawing with Salford after Josh Sheehan saw red before battling for a win despite losing Scot Bennett against Grimsby.

They gave Exeter something to hold onto when Ryan Bowman fired home after a defensive mistake by David Longe-King but the goal hero turned villain after 43 minutes.

The forward charged into an aerial challenge with Mickey Demetriou with his left elbow, right in front of the linesman who advised Mr Nield to get his red card out again.

Arguably that left County with 45 minutes to save their season – Exeter are promotion contenders but losing to nine men would inflict more damage than a simple defeat.

They avoided that ignominy but question marks remain about their ability to remain in the mix after a nightmare December and January has spread into February.

South Wales Argus: OFF: Ryan Bowman heads to the Exeter changing roomOFF: Ryan Bowman heads to the Exeter changing room

Flynn made two changes to the side that started in the shock defeat to Southend with physical Taylor preferred to Padraig Amond up front while captain Joss Labadie was back from suspension to add some bulk to midfield, taking the spot of Anthony Hartigan.

Matty Dolan was badly missed after he limped off in the first half against the Shrimpers. He was fit to start and slotted into midfield.

The fixture was meant to be the final one of 2020 but was postponed because of a waterlogged pitch.

Exeter didn't have another wasted trip across the Severn Bridge but they were greeted by testing conditions.

As has been well-documented, the Parade pitch has passed its shelf life after planned summer work was cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The number of games on it then weekend frost followed by rain led to a heavy surface.

County made a slightly hesitant start but no damage was done and they then got their boost after just eight minutes when Hartridge was dismissed.

That changed the dynamic with Exeter having little of the ball and the Exiles having a chance to ramp up the pressure.

South Wales Argus:

Yet disaster struck in the 22nd minute when a mistake by central defender Longe-King, who tried a back-header rather than putting the ball in the Bisley Stand, led to Bowman slamming home off the left post.

Flynn responded to the goal with a double change with Longe-King, who was having a tough time even before his error, and Dolan taken off.

Aaron Lewis came on at right-back with Priestley Farquharson shifting into the middle while Dom Telford came on to provide another attacking option.

It got the desired result in terms of more promise in possession but not on the scoreboard with Maynard guilty of missing the best chance, with Jokull Andresson blocking well when the ball fell to the veteran striker eight yards out.

County were getting into more promising positions and patience was the key… even more so after Bowman’s red.

It was 1-0 to the Grecians at the break and the Exiles simply had to strike back given their two-man advantage.

It was attack versus defence after the resumption; County had to avoid giving away cheap free-kicks and had to be patient against Exeter’s 5-3-0 formation.

A few chances eventually came with Ryan Haynes' poor shot nearly slipping past Andresson at his near post before excellent blocks denied Demetriou and Labadie.

The Grecians would have been surviving the half in sections and made it to the hour with their lead intact.

Flynn turned to his bench in the bid for a breakthrough with Amond on for Taylor and Lewis Collins replacing Gambin.

The Exiles kept probing but their delivery was lacking quality and the nerves were growing as the clock ticked towards 90.

The pitch was making it tough to stretch the nine men and the hope was that the Devon side would tire, mentally and physically.

Yet the chances failed to come with the Exiles’ hindered by woeful execution from wide areas and poor decision making.

Thankfully the leveller came in the 88th minute but County failed to come close to finding a winner.

In fact, Exeter could have stolen the win had they been more cutthroat from a misplaced Demetriou pass.

County scrambled for a point but need a much, much better display against Forest Green Rovers in Newport on Saturday.

County: Townsend, Longe-King (Lewis 33), Dolan (Telford 33), Demetriou, Farquharson (Scrimshaw 81), Haynes, Labadie (captain), Sheehan, Gambin (Collins 60), Maynard, Taylor (Amond 60).
Substitutes: King, Hartigan.
Goal: Telford

Exeter: Andresson, Caprice, Sparkes, Taylor (captain), Seymour, Collins, Bowman, Parkes, Jay, Sweeney, Hartridge.
Substitutes: Lee, Atangana, Randall, Fisher, Kite, Key, Dean.
Red cards: Hartridge, Bowman

Referee: Tom Nield