NEWPORT County AFC suffered a first defeat of their August on the road in League Two after being edged out 2-1 by Mansfield Town.

All the goals came in the first half at Field Mill after Robbie Willmott’s fine finish was sandwiched by goals by George Maris and Ollie Clarke, the opener courtesy of a howler by goalkeeper Joe Day.

County, who were stretched by injury, pressed but were unable to strike late as they had on opening weekend at Oldham Athletic.

The Exiles are spending the first month of their league campaign away from Rodney Parade because of summer work on the pitch.

While defeat is disappointing, the performance against a strong Stags team gave some reason for optimism after Michael Flynn’s rebuilding work following play-off final woe.

After trips to Boundary Park and Ipswich, a week off is welcome ahead of another tough trip to Tranmere.

It was an early test of County’s squad depth because of the absence of captain Matty Dolan and his deputy Mickey Demetriou, who missed just one league game last season through suspension.

There were four changes to the starting line-up from opening day at Oldham with defender James Clarke, midfielders Chris Missilou and Finn Azaz and forward Timmy Abraham, fresh from his Carabao Cup winner at Ipswich, coming in.

Flynn had warned that there were a number of niggles and he took no risks with Dolan and Demetriou joined on the sidelines by Kevin Ellison and Jermaine Hylton but central defender Priestley Farquharson was declared fit to start.

County reverted to three at the back at the start after going with a flat four at Ipswich with captain Scot Bennett flanked by Farquharson and Clarke.

The list of absentees meant sub spots for defender Joe Woodiwiss and midfielder Aneurin Livermore, although their performances at Portman Road could have earned a chance even if others were fit.

While County were forced to ring the changes, the Stags fielded the same line-up that started with a success against Bristol Rovers.

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The game had been switched to Field Mill to give the new Rodney Parade pitch more time to settle and it was nearly a fast start by the hosts with a dangerous cross from the left flashing across goal.

But the Stags did get the opener after six minutes and it was an awful goal to concede.

County failed to clear a botched corner to gift possession back to Maris, whose curling shot from distance should have been dealt with by Joe Day only for the goalkeeper to fail to push it around his left post.

The Exiles didn’t wallow and were back on level terms two minutes later with the stopper relieved to claim the assist after his clanger.

The ball was pumped long and Willmott chased it down, controlled and then calmly lobbed Nathan Bishop.

County had a chance to hit the front from a contentious free-kick in the 19th minute only for Ed Upson’s effort to be deflected behind and they had a lucky escape from the corner.

It was too deep to set up a Mansfield counter and the ball broke for Maris, who was denied by Day from the edge of the box.

Bishop was called into action approaching the half hour when a lovely turn by Azaz won a free-kick that Ryan Haynes took. He hit the target but it was simple for the stopper.

The physical battle between Farquharson and targetman Oli Hawkins was terrific while Bennett was assured in his defensive role after being in midfield seven days earlier.

Yet County were caught out on the stroke of half-time when a flick-on put Clarke in on goal and he slammed left-footed into the top corner as James Clarke scrambled across.

South Wales Argus:

Flynn went with the same XI for the second half and they had the first effort when Abraham shot tamely across the goal, left-footed and from a tight angle after being played in by Willmott.

The Fulham loanee came closer on 55 with a glancing header that flashed just wide after Cameron Norman fired in a cross from the right.

However, County were thankful to still be in touch approaching the hour when Kellan Gordon’s cross from the right looped over Day and went just past the post.

The action swung back to the other end and Azaz was denied when Bishop tipped over his left-footed shot from a Haynes pullback.

Flynn had to go on the attack and replaced midfielder Missilou, who ran himself into the ground, with targetman Fisher before introducing Jordan Greenidge for Abraham up top.

The final change came with 15 minutes left with Lewis Collins introduced down the right with defender Clarke the man to go off, County finishing with a back four.

However, the Exiles were unable to build up a head of steam with the Stags killing the clock, aided by the whistle of referee Anthony Backhouse.

Day kept them in it when he saved with his legs from Danny Johnson and five minutes of added time gave some hope.

Mansfield: Bishop, Gordon, McLaughlin, Rawson, Clarke (captain), Maris, Johnson, Hawkins, Perch, Quinn, Oates.
Substitutes: Shelvey, Hewitt, Bowery, Burke, Sinclair, Stirk, Lapslie.
Yellow: Perch, Gordon, Hawkins.
Goals: Maris, Clarke

County: Day, Norman, Farquharson, Clarke, Haynes, Bennett (captain), Missilou (Fisher 65), Upson, Willmott, Azaz, Abraham (Greenidge 72).
Substitutes: Townsend, Woodiwiss, Lewis, Livermore, Collins.
Yellow: Abraham, Missilou, Haynes.
Goal: Willmott

Referee: Anthony Backhouse
Attendance: 3,793