NEWPORT County AFC went from the frustration of a draw at Mansfield to the relief of sharing the spoils with League Two promotion rivals Carlisle United.

The Exiles could have stretched their lead over the Cumbrians to six points in the race for the play-offs but they should be pretty content to maintain their buffer of three after the tense clash at Rodney Parade.

Carlisle had the clearer chances but County, like they did in the 1-0 home win against Bolton, profited from some dodgy finishing.

They may not have got the win that they desired – and they had a pair of openings in seven minutes of added time – but they totted up another hard-earned point and will have got back to their changing room to find that plenty of other results went their way.

Exeter lost at Barrow, Bradford were beaten by Crawley, Orient were held at Harrogate, Tranmere lost at Walsall and Bolton beat Salford.

South Wales Argus: Ryan Taylor puts himself about up frontRyan Taylor puts himself about up front

The top three looks too far off now but County climbed above Forest Green Rovers and will now look to keep ticking along when they entertain second-placed Cambridge on Saturday (kick-off 12.30pm).

Michael Flynn made two changes to the starting line-up that took on Mansfield with striker Nicky Maynard, who couldn’t play against his parent club, returning for Dom Telford while Lewis Collins was rewarded with back-to-back lively displays off the bench.

The 19-year-old came into midfield at the expense of veteran Joe Ledley, making his first start since the Boxing Day trip to Crawley.

Collins was tasked with added some energy and attacking intent from midfield ahead of Josh Sheehan and Joss Labadie.

Carlisle had been on the brink of dropping out of the promotion race after taking just six from a possible 39 between February and the end of March.

However, they headed to Newport on the back of three wins and a draw at Barrow and certainly looked a sharp team after working their way into the half.

County had a first effort after just 13 seconds, albeit one that flew over the bar, when Maynard chested and shot on the turn from long range.

However, it was a cagey opening and the next sight of goal came after 13 minutes when Aaron Lewis did well before pinging a ball forward for Ryan Taylor to climb and nod down to his striker partner.

Maynard took a little too long outside the area and his shot was blocked before he could trouble goalkeeper Paul Farman.

It certainly wasn’t one-way traffic and Carlisle had a couple of half openings, with top scorer John Mellish failing to make Nick Townsend work with a left-footed volley from near the penalty spot.

South Wales Argus: Liam Shephard looks for a way throughLiam Shephard looks for a way through

The first real scare for either side came in the 28th minute when a Carlisle long throw was headed out well by Taylor and Callum Guy had a crack from distance. Townsend was scrambling but it went past his left post.

The stopper should have been given no chance on the half hour when Guy swing in a fantastic free-kick from the right but Rod McDonald headed wide from six yards out, right in front of the goal.

County had ridden their luck in the 1-0 win against Bolton and were once again lucky not to be playing catch-up.

Suddenly the visitors were in command and it took a strong hand by Townsend to deny them after captain Aaron Hayden had headed across the box after 35 minutes.

The ball was in the County net after 39 minutes but it was a simple decision for referee Lee Swabey to award a free-kick after Townsend was clattered by forward Offrande Zanzala after he had got his hands to a cross.

Carlisle had undoubtedly had the better of the first half yet it took good work by Farman to keep them on level terms in added time.

Collins did superbly to break from midfield, played through Maynard but the ‘keeper was off his line sharply to smother the striker’s left-footed shot.

That was a bright finish from a testing half; Flynn had plenty to mull over during the break.

Unlike against Bolton, it was same again for the resumption and it took some terrific defending by Liam Shephard to stay on level terms in the 47th minute.

Carlisle broke rapidly from a County long throw through Omari Patrick and he got past left wing-back Aaron Lewis but was denied by right wing-back Shephard, who blocked the low drive on goal.

The Exiles were still yet to hit their straps and were being troubled by the athleticism of the visitors on the counter, with Matty Dolan booked after 54 minutes for bringing down Patrick.

County stuck with their starters and nearly got the reward approaching the hour when a long Demetriou throw was nodded out to Lewis, whose controlled dipping volley was just over.

Patrick fired powerfully over after 66 minutes – thankfully saving young Collins a ticking off for losing possession when he should have cleared his lines – and Flynn made his first change with 19 minutes left when he brought on Padraig Amond for Maynard.

Carlisle remained the most likely and luckily Zanzala was unable to sort out his feet in front of goal when Patrick fired in a cross/shot.

It was tense with Farman fortunate that his defence was switch on after he made a meal of what should have been a simple save from Amond.

Veteran midfielder Kevin Ellison was introduced after 87 minutes when Dolan suffered a nasty blow to the head.

Seven minutes of added time were to be played and in the first of them Amond was worked in on goal by Ellison, but Farman pushed him wide and his dinked cross couldn’t find a teammate.

An even better opening came shortly afterwards when Shephard did well down the right and it opened up for Taylor only for the experienced forward to fire over with his favoured left.

It was their best chance but County failed to burgle the win.

County: Townsend, Bennett, Dolan (Ellison 86), Demetriou, Shephard, Lewis, Sheehan, Labadie (captain), Collins, Maynard (Amond 71), Taylor.
Substitutes: King, Longe-King, Ledley, Ellison, Gambin, Telford.
Yellow: Dolan

Carlisle: Farman, Devine, Hayden (captain), Riley, Guy, Alessandra, Zanzala, Patrick, Mellish, McDonald, Armer.
Substitutes: Norman, Tanner, Anderton, Kayode, Furman, Toure, Walker.
Yellow: Alessandra, Mellish

Referee: Lee Swabey