NEWPORT County AFC left Exeter City with a point to show for their efforts after an engrossing League Two clash at St James Park.

The Exiles stretched their unbeaten run to three games after twice being pegged back in Devon.

Robbie Willmott, rejuvenated after spending the second half of last season on loan in Exeter, fired County into the lead after 11 minutes with a well-placed shot from the edge of the box.

READ MORE: Match report from St James Park

Matt Jay was given too much space to drive to the box and level before Courtney Baker-Richardson’s was the beneficiary of a Cameron Dawson error, his powerful shot from distance going through the goalkeeper.

The Grecians levelled for the second time nine minutes after the restart when Sam Nombe’s shot from the left curled into the far corner.

County had the best chance to score the fifth goal but Ollie Cooper was denied by Dawson after being played in by Ed Upson, the Swansea loanee unable to lift the ball over the keeper.

Here are the talking points from Exeter…

South Wales Argus: HIT: Robbie Willmott celebrates his goal with Joe DayHIT: Robbie Willmott celebrates his goal with Joe Day


County headed into the game on the back of a draw against Bradford, a goalless game that provided plenty of chances, flashpoints and drama.

They once again shared the spoils after giving value for money to the 5,078 (614 away) that headed to St James Park, and it was a fair result.

It was a game in which the momentum shifted with County playing some delightful football on the deck at times while Exeter caused problems with their nifty forwards.

After taking the lead twice it would be easy to feel it was an opportunity missed but only one team have beaten the Grecians this season and this was a third strong performance on the spin and a hard-earned point.

It’s not dull watching County at the moment, although the odd professional 1-0 win would be welcome.


Think back a few weeks to the collapse at Barrow, a shocking display that led to Michael Flynn calling his players “cowardly” for their effort in the second half.

With hindsight the writing was on the wall after the former manager used such a harsh word outside of the changing room.

However, Flynn had good reason to be angry after the shocker in Cumbria and he would have been pleased to see what unfolded in Devon.

County were under pressure after Nombe’s second equaliser and they had a long way to go in the game against a buoyant Exeter side.

It required composure, maturity and spirit but bravery is not all about big defensive headers or last-gasp blocks (which Mickey Demetriou and James Clarke relish).

County, with captain Matty Dolan influential, got on the ball to take the sting out of the game and ensured there was no onslaught in the closing stages.

It showed the importance of striking a balance between no-risk football and regaining some control through possession.

South Wales Argus: Ed Upson battles for the ballEd Upson battles for the ball


Neither of Exeter’s goals will make pretty viewing at the debrief ahead of Carlisle, although the Grecians will be saying similar about Willmott and Baker-Richardson’s strikes.

The second came when Nombe was allowed to cut in on his right a little too easily by Cameron Norman and his shot from the far edge of the box really shouldn’t have been allowed to go in at the far post.

But the first was the most frustrating after County’s midfield trio of Ed Upson, Willmott and Cooper was taken out of the game by a single Thimothee Dieng pass that put Jay in on the defence.

He carried a good 15 metres to the edge of the box under no pressure before side-footing in a shot that wrong-footed Joe Day.

It will be a conundrum for the new manager; most of the time the midfield trio look nicely balanced but there have been moments throughout this season when there has been too much space in front of the defence.

Is that an issue of personnel that could be solved with the energy of Chris Missilou while dependable Scot Bennett continues his return from a foot injury or is it just a case of the midfielders switching off and the defence failing to act decisively?

It was telling that Hatswell flirted with an extra body in midfield for a spell in the second half, shifting Dolan forward into the role he filled against Bradford because of similar problems against the lively attacking midfielder Levi Sutton.

County will still want to have a possession-based game under their new boss and that makes the ability to scramble vital and offer some protection vital.


Clarke, who came up with some telling defensive moments, stretched his calf after safely shepherding the ball out for a goal-kick in the closing stage.

He won’t be the only one feeling a little weary today after a draining effort in a fast-paced game.

That leaves the County staff with some tough decisions to make against Carlisle; they have prospered from fielding a settled side but could profit from freshening things up.

The summer recruitment drive led to 15 players coming in to provide competition for places and also the ability to rotate.

They got it wrong against Northampton in September when sweeping changes didn’t pay off but a couple of switches could add energy.

The likes of Aaron Lewis, Missilou, Finn Azaz, Timmy Abraham and Alex Fisher will be champing at the bit but Hatswell & Co have to choose wisely.

The caretaker boss was spot-on in his post-match assessment – three points against Carlisle would turn this into a very good point.