NEWPORT County AFC wasted a chance to move to within striking distance of League Two’s top three after being beaten by strugglers Port Vale.

The Exiles lost 2-1 in Staffordshire and ultimately paid the price for a sluggish first half against hosts who looked a far better side that the table suggests.

Vale, who were looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation zone, started sharply and hit the front early on through a lovely goal by captain Tom Conlon and they were more than good value for their 1-0 lead at the break.

But manager Michael Flynn responded with a pair of half-time substitutions and they combined to level after 55 minutes, Luke Gambin flicking on and Jake Scrimshaw producing a neat finish.

County were on top but fell behind after 74 minutes when Devante Rodney finished convincingly when the ball fell to him around the penalty spot.

That proved to be enough for Vale’s first win since January 30, ending an eight-game winless streak that had yielded just three points.

It was another night to prove the madness of the fourth tier (leaders Cheltenham lost at home to third-from-bottom Barrow), showing that it’s never wise to get too carried away.

South Wales Argus: Jake Scrimshaw nets for CountyJake Scrimshaw nets for County

Twists and turns lie ahead but County, who had won three on the spin, desperately need to finish off the block of fixtures with a win against Leyton Orient at Cardiff City stadium.

They can then have a breather during the international period and go again one last time with the aim of cementing a play-off place and pushing for automatic promotion.

Michael Flynn named the same starting line-up that won in Morecambe with one change on the bench, but there was no Nicky Maynard with winger Gambin taking the striker’s spot on the bench.

The manager would have hammered home the fact that it would be a tough night, despite Vale’s form and that was soon proved shrewd with the hosts starting brightly with good passing movement.

And Vale were in front after 12 minutes when Mickey Demetriou was skinned by David Worrall down the right and he picked out captain Conlon on the edge of the box, who calmly found the bottom left corner.

The skipper nearly doubled the lead in the 19th minute with a sweetly struck free-kick only for Nick Townsend to pull off a superb reaction save to tip behind.

County were second best against a Vale side full of energy; they were unable to get their attacking game going and the management acted by moving Matty Dolan into midfield and changing to a back four.

The Exiles were being beaten to the second balls and struggling to deal with the hosts’ press.

It was an awful half by the visitors and it was a relief that they went in just 1-0 down at the break, giving the chance for a rollocking and some smelling salts.

South Wales Argus:

Flynn made a pair of changes with Scrimshaw and Gambin on for Padraig Amond and Scot Bennett to try and conjure chances in the final third.

County were nearly back on level terms almost immediately when a Gambin shot was deflected into the air and Ryan Taylor thundered a volley against the bar.

On another night it would have bounced over the line or perhaps in off the keeper but instead Vale escaped with their lead intact.

Yet the Exiles were level on 55 minutes after Mickey Demetriou played a low ball into the box, Gambin flicked it on and his fellow sub Scrimshaw finished across his body with his left.

The Bournemouth prospect clearly likes playing Vale – his first two professional goals came against them when on loan at Walsall in the first half of the campaign.

County now had the momentum and had to find the balance between hunting the lead and protecting against the counter.

In fact, it took fine covering by Priestley Farquharson to prevent a breakout after Josh Sheehan had been dispossessed by referee Marc Edwards.

Yet Vale had their noses in front again after 74 minutes despite Farquharson’s fine block of a Nathan Smith shot. The ball fell to Rodney and he slammed past Townsend.

County were chasing again with Dom Telford and Kevin Ellison called into action, replacing Taylor and Dolan.

However, they failed to build up a head of steam and it wasn’t until the 89th minute that goalkeeper Scott Brown was called into action when an Aaron Lewis whipped corner deflected straight into his hands.

County had four added minutes to try and salvage a point but couldn’t create one last chance on a desperately disappointing night in Staffordshire.

Port Vale: Brown, Joyce, Legge, Smith, Worrall, Oyeleke, Conlon (captain), Montano, Robinson, Mills, Rodney.
Substitutes: Cullen, Brisley, Taylor, Amoo, Hurst, Scott, Olagunju.
Yellow cards: Joyce
Goals: Conlon, Rodney

County: Townsend, Farquharson, Dolan (Ellison 79), Demetriou, Shephard, Lewis, Sheehan, Bennett (Gambin 45), Labadie (captain), Taylor (Telford 79), Amond (Scrimshaw 45).
Substitutes: King, Longe-King, Hartigan, Ellison, Telford.
Goal: Scrimshaw 

Referee: Marc Edwards