NEWPORT County AFC started the James Rowberry era with bang by beating Bristol Rovers 3-1 at the Memorial Stadium.

The Exiles picked up where they left off under Wayne Hatswell to stretch their unbeaten run in League Two to five games. They are 12th in the table but just three off the play-offs and a further point back on third.

County led 2-1 at the break thanks to goals by the strike partnership of Courtney Baker-Richardson and Dom Telford, who wasted a glorious chance to make it 3-0.

Experienced striker Brett Pitman gave the Gas a lifeline in injury time and they started the second half on top, only to be hit by a Telford counter-attack goal on the hour.

The Exiles killed the clock superbly and the only grumble was that they didn’t twist the knife to make it 4-1 for the large travelling contingent.

It was a performance to delight Rowberry and it was very much a Flynn and Hatswell performance; the Exiles were neat, tidy and adventurous on the ball yet also showed character when under pressure.

They played for most of the game with their last four defenders with utility man Robbie Willmott, who used to be a winger, the most defensively-minded midfielder.

The energy and application was superb with centre-backs James Clarke and Mickey Demetriou displaying all their experience to steer the ship.

Yet County finished the game with three young loanees – Swansea’s Ollie Cooper, Liverpool’s Jake Cain and Aston Villa’s Finn Azaz – pressing with intensity.

There’s no reason why this squad shouldn’t be looking up for another promotion push, but perhaps that’s a derby win leading to a bit of giddiness.

South Wales Argus: OPENER: Courtney Baker-Richardson slides in to scoreOPENER: Courtney Baker-Richardson slides in to score

Rowberry was forced into two changes because left wing-back Ryan Haynes and former Rovers midfielder Ed Upson were serving one-match bans for red cards.

Aaron Lewis was the predictable replacement in defence while Liverpool loanee Jake Cain made his second start in midfield.

Chris Missilou and Lewis Collins were brought on the bench with the latter, who was superb in last season’s run-in, hoping to once again have family bragging rights.

Aaron Collins started for Rovers and, worryingly, was yet to get off the mark for his new club since making the summer move from early pace-setters Forest Green Rovers.

As ever with County, the line-up could line up in several shapes and they started in their usual 3-5-2 with Robbie Willmott given the task of sitting deep in midfield.

The Exiles made a bright start yet it took a superb block by Mickey Demetriou to deny Collins in the eighth minute after he touched the ball past Matty Dolan and fired in a right-footed shot.

Both sides were keen to play, hence a few ‘oooohs’ as the hosts tried to play out from the back under pressure.

County went close to hitting the front when Baker-Richardson’s drive was stopped by the legs of home goalkeeper James Belshaw then Demetriou had a powerful header cleared off the line by veteran midfielder Glenn Whelan.

However, they were dealt a blow after 15 minutes when Dolan, who started with strapping on his right thigh, limped off and was replaced by Finn Azaz.

That led to a change to a flat four with a midfield of lovely, if lightweight, footballers who were soon showing their attacking talent.

County hit the front after 26 minutes when Willmott played in Cain down the right and it looked like a chance to fire in a shot. The Scouser knew better, rolling a ball across the box for Baker-Richardson to slide in.

It became 2-0 on the half hour when Rovers were caught trying to play out from the back and the goalscorer looked to make it a double.

His effort was blocked but Telford got to the loose ball and, confident thanks to his impressive form, flicked the ball up and volleyed past Belshaw.

The striker made that look easy but then made a total mess of a golden chance to make it 3-0 after 38 minutes.

He controlled Azaz’s awful shot superbly and opened up onto his left foot only to roll the ball too close to Belshaw, who saved with his right boot.

It proved to be costly.

County had a pair of lucky escapes with Mickey Demetriou clearing from under his bar and Luke Thomas denied by Joe Day but they were pegged back in added time.

It was a superb finish by experienced striker Pitman, who controlled and slammed into the top corner on the turn, but it was a poor one to concede after Willmott was disposed in midfield.

South Wales Argus: DOUBLE: Dom Telford struck twice for CountyDOUBLE: Dom Telford struck twice for County

It was close to 2-2 just four minutes after the restart when Pitman met a cross from the right but couldn’t get enough on his shot at the near post, the ball whistling past Day’s left stick.

Rovers had an even better chance after 53 minutes after a superb run by Thomas from the right and he then played in Sam Nicholson, who skied his shot when well-placed.

County were under serious pressure, with Baker-Richardson doing a fine job when helping out at the back, but they hit their hosts with a sucker punch on the hour.

They countered and Azaz mirrored Cain in the first half, calmly rolling the ball to Telford and the striker didn’t make the same mistake as he had at 2-0.

The Exiles had to protect this buffer and Willmott did a fine job of stopping a dangerous counter-attack with 20 minutes left, even if his wise foul earned a booking.

County killed the clock well and then Rowberry added fresh, if old, legs by bringing on Kevin Ellison for Telford after 79 minutes.

They should have secured the spoils with five minutes to go when Azaz shot weakly rather than squaring the ball to Baker-Richardson.

A worse miss came at the death when sub Timmy Abraham should have side-footed home when in on goal but didn’t even get a shot off.

Thankfully it didn’t matter on what was an afternoon to remember for the 1,000-strong Amber Army.

Bristol Rovers: Belshaw, Kilgour, Thomas, Collins, Nicholson, Anderton, Taylor, Anderson, Evans, Whelan (captain), Pitman.

Substitutes: Ward, Finley, Westbrooke, Coutts, Spence, Hoole, Brown.

Yellow: Finley

Goal: Pitman

County: Day, Norman, Lewis, Clarke, Demetriou, Dolan (Azaz 15), Willmott, Cain, Cooper, Telford (Ellison 79), Baker-Richardson (Abraham 87).

Substitutes: Townsend, Missilou, Lewis Collins, Fisher.

Yellow: Clarke, Willmott, Baker-Richardson, Abraham

Goals: Baker-Richardson, Telford (2)

Referee: Scott Oldham