NEWPORT County AFC were denied victory by an injury-time cracker by Conor Wilkinson in a League Two thriller at Walsall on Saturday.

The Exiles looked set to edge a ridiculous encounter at the Bescot Stadium when they led 3-2 as the clock passed 90 minutes.

They hit the front in the fourth minute when Dom Telford finished superbly with the rest of the goals coming in a manic second half.

Fit-again Wilkinson, who had a spell on loan at County in 2016, was called from the bench on 53 minutes and levelled straight away from a corner only to then nod into his own net.

Matty Dolan repaid the favour when he sliced a clearance past goalkeeper Nick Townsend from a corner but the Exiles responded swiftly again.

Finn Azaz smashed the ball against the bar and Telford was on hand to nod in after 66 minutes.

That looked set to be the winner until Wilkinson struck three minutes into six added on, flicking the ball past Scot Bennett and smashing in a shot from outside the area.

Here are (some of) the talking points from Walsall…

South Wales Argus: FLICK: Conor Wilkinson waits for the ball before hitting a stunning leveller for WalsallFLICK: Conor Wilkinson waits for the ball before hitting a stunning leveller for Walsall

STUNNER

There will be some grumbles below because the late leveller made it feel like two points dropped.

However, it’s only right to first pay tribute to a wonderful goal that gave Walsall a deserved share of the spoils.

County rode their luck in the closing stages but it took a piece of magic from Wilkinson to deny them, the striker flicking the ball past Bennett and giving Townsend no chance.

The Exiles have scored some crackers this season but this will surely with the conceded goal of the season award.

RED-HOT DOM

What a difference a year makes.

County were agonisingly close to victory thanks to a pair of goals from Telford at a ground that summed up his struggles in the first half of 2021.

The striker missed a sitter when short of confidence last February but this time, at the same end, there was no doubt that he would score when found by Ollie Cooper early on.

Telford made it look easy and then was on the spot to react sharply to restore the lead in the second half, making it 17 goals in an incredible purple patch.

South Wales Argus: Matty Dolan and the County defence were given a tough time by WalsallMatty Dolan and the County defence were given a tough time by Walsall

DEFENSIVE FRAILTIES

County look sure to have a 20-goal striker this season, something that should give a club a real shot at promotion.

Not if they leak goals, as Oldham found out last season when they finished 18th despite 17 goals from Conor McAleny.

The Exiles have now shipped three in successive games after Rochdale enjoyed a 3-0 win pre-Christmas.

Manager James Rowberry points out that they don’t allow many shots on their goal yet County have conceded the most goals of any side in the top half.

Their goals against column is 32 in 23 games, the eighth worst in the division, and at Walsall they missed Mickey Demetriou badly.

SET PIECES

The stalwart centre-back was absent because of coronavirus but will be back in the mix for Salford on Saturday.

He should be a welcome presence in the box for set pieces but it’s not a one-man fix after Walsall caused mayhem from long throws, corners and free-kicks.

County have traditionally been strong in this department with coach Wayne Hatswell having them well-drilled in both boxes.

However, it was a serious weakness at the Bescot and it was the right call to bring on defender Priestley Farquharson at the death to try and cope with the onslaught.

Is it a result of having a small midfield trio plus Dom Telford? Well, the first goal was from Bennett losing Wilkinson and the second was a howler by Dolan under no pressure.

According to whoscored.com, County are ranked 11th in the league after conceding six set piece goals.

That suggests there is no crisis but the squad will return for training this week knowing that set piece drills will feature prominently.

County were under siege at the end and Rowberry will be pondering if he could have done things differently to release the pressure, but credit to Walsall and it should also be noted that Robbie Willmott was inches away from making it 4-2.

South Wales Argus: MARKED: Ollie Cooper is outmuscledMARKED: Ollie Cooper is outmuscled

MARKED MEN

Loan duo Ollie Cooper and Finn Azaz enjoyed a superb end to 2021 and have been key cogs in the Rowberry team with their energy with and without the ball.

Rivals have been doing their due diligence and they need to get used to close attention.

Azaz, who swapped West Brom for Aston Villa, was still prominent on his return to the west midlands but Cooper was more subdued, albeit he still recorded his ninth assist of the season early on.

“Credit to Walsall for the way that they set up to try and nullify our midfield area by going man-to-man. We will work on that this coming week for Salford,” said Rowberry afterwards.

As frustrating as it was to be denied at the death, County will still do that work after recording another point on the road against a strong Walsall side.