JAMIE Devitt spent the first half of the season helping Newport County AFC set the pace in League Two but the midfielder put the boot into their promotion hopes with Barrow.

The Irishman hit the winner after the Exiles endured a second half nightmare at Holker Street, wasting a chance to earn some breathing space in the race for the play-offs.

They remain seventh in the table but failed to take advantage of Exeter and Salford slipping up.

It was also a costly 2-1 defeat, a third on the spin, that surely puts an end to hopes of a late charge for the top three; County need to concentrate on trying to play beyond the end of the regular season.

It had looked so good when they led 1-0 at the break in Cumbria thanks to utility man Scot Bennett slamming home from inside the box.

He was the beneficiary of a deflection and it evened out after 55 minutes when Scott Quigley levelled for relegation-threatened Barrow via the unlucky defender.

South Wales Argus: LEVELLER: Nick Townsend is beaten by a deflectionLEVELLER: Nick Townsend is beaten by a deflection

Manager Michael Flynn said his side needed to chase wins rather than draws in their bid for League One yet it was a pointless and long trip to Cumbria thanks to Devitt, who swept home a free-kick late on.

The midfielder was a bit-part player when he was on loan at County in the first half of the campaign and showed his former side what they could have had after earning a permanent move to Barrow from Blackpool.

It got worse. Mickey Demetriou endured a torrid second half and will now miss Monday’s key game against Bolton Wanderers after being dismissed at the death for a second yellow card.

It was a familiar tale of woe for the Exiles, who played some neat stuff but once again lacked a cutting edge.

Perhaps it will force Flynn into changes for Bank Holiday Monday; Luke Gambin, who was not involved in Barrow after travel exertions with Malta, is surely an option to try and spark them into life.

An indication of how it was unlikely to be a routine afternoon came before kick-off when in-form Bolton, who head to Rodney Parade on Monday, were held by struggling Colchester at home in a 1pm fixture.

Flynn made three changes to his starting line-up from the loss to Leyton Orient at Cardiff City Stadium.

Joe Ledley made a first start while Padraig Amond and Ryan Taylor got the nod up front, with defender Priestley Farquharson and forwards Nicky Maynard and Jake Scrimshaw dropping out of the XI.

The team announcement was at 2pm and that prompted plenty of questions about the shape of the team, with Matty Dolan, Ledley and Bennett all able to play in both defence and midfield.

County started with three at the back with Bennett slotting in on the right to join Dolan and Demetriou.

The Exiles started on the front foot, stretching Barrow with some nice play without threatening, but it was the hosts that had the first sight of goal.

Nick Townsend punched a long throw out and it fell to Devitt, whose long-range effort curled wide of the left post.

The Exiles were once again playing some nice stuff up to the final third but once there were unable to conjure clear openings to cause their opponent real stress.

South Wales Argus: GOAL: Scot Bennett slams home for CountyGOAL: Scot Bennett slams home for County

That changed after 23 minutes when Dolan whipped a free-kick into the box and, via the head of Ledley and a block of a Taylor shot, the ball fell to Bennett.

The utility man put his right boot through it and found the net via a deflection off Barrow defender Bobby Thomas.

County had the lead that their possession and probing deserved, although it took a good defensive block by a combination of Ledley and Demetriou to deny Devitt a rapid response after a long throw caused problems.

The Exiles were close to securing some breathing space in the 30th minute when a Sheehan cross went all the way through to the influential Lewis but the wing-back’s low drive flew just past the left-hand post with goalkeeper Joel Dixon scrambling.

Flynn’s men were on top but got a warning after 34 minutes after a mistake by Ledley, who gifted away possession just outside his box when trying to be too cute. Devitt, the man most likely for Barrow, worked Quigley in but the forward fired wildly over the bar.

County headed into half-time with a 1-0 lead but with captain Joss Labadie treading a familiar tightrope after a daft yellow for preventing a free-kick being taken.

Flynn would have called for more quality from wide areas, albeit the wind and a bobbly, dry pitch were mitigating factors, in the hunt for a comforting second.

They also had to be wary of Barrow on the break with the breeze meaning they would be more of a threat with balls over the top in the second half.

County went hunting a second with a succession of long throws but were pegged back in the 56th minute when Quigley was put in on a counter after an error by Demetriou.

He cut in on his left to beat the covering Bennett, shimmied again as Demetriou and Shephard scrambled and then his shot deflected in off the unfortunate Bennett.

The Exiles needed to respond but were lucky to still be on level terms with a quickfire pair of chances with the clock in the 60s.

First Quigley was denied by Townsend in a one-on-one after outmuscling Demetriou and then Jamie Jones failed to hit the target from Devitt’s whipped free-kick.

Ledley had a sight of goal after 76 minutes but his first-time effort from Taylor’s lay-off was no trouble for Dixon.

Sheehan went closer with nine left when he jinked into the box, worked a yard and then forced the home stopper into a low save.

Yet they were hit by a crushing blow after 83 minutes when a free-kick was conceded just outside the box and Devitt curled it in, with Townsend unable to keep the shot out at his near post after Demetriou and Labadie parted in the wall.

It got worse for Demetriou when he was dismissed by Premier League referee Lee Mason in the 89th minute for a second yellow card.

After a grim afternoon, County simply have to respond next week with clashes against Bolton and Mansfield if the season is not to drift off.

Barrow: Dixon, J Jones, Thomas, Ntlhe, Barry, Brough, Banks, J Taylor, Devitt, Quigley, James. Substitutes: Moloney, Eardley, Beadling, Kay, C Taylor, Andrew.
Goal: Quigley

County: Townsend, Bennett (Collins 87), Dolan, Demetriou, Shephard, Lewis, Ledley (Ellison 87), Sheehan, Labadie (captain), Amond (Maynard 75), Taylor (Scrimshaw 87).
Substitutes: King, Long-King, Hartigan.
Goal: Bennett
Yellow cards: Labadie, Demetriou

Referee: Lee Mason