THE sound of Salford cheers echoed around a near-empty Rodney Parade after Newport County AFC suffered a 2-0 defeat in League Two.

The Exiles are without a win in three after being overpowered in their first fixture behind closed doors because of Welsh government restrictions.

County trailed 1-0 at the break after failing to take their chances and then conceding in the 44th minute when a cross/shot deflected in off Finn Azaz.

The Exiles fought back from behind in December for win at a raucous Rodney Parade but had a mountain to climb in the silence after Brandon Thomas-Asante got the goal his lively performance deserved six minutes after the restart.

County finished the game on top but failed to burgle a share of the spoils and will know that much, much better is needed against Harrogate next weekend, when once again they won’t have the help of the Amber Army.

The supporters wouldn’t have had much to cheer on this occasion anyway after a lethargic and inaccurate Exiles display; they failed to look after the ball and were outmuscled and outworked by a Salford side who will be looking to climb into the play-off mix.

The Exiles lost their individual battles and were beaten to the first and second balls too frequently in what was the poorest display of the James Rowberry era.

After a 3-0 loss at Rochdale, conceding a late leveller at Walsall and then this, County need a win next weekend, forget performance and processes.

South Wales Argus: Dom Telford is put under pressureDom Telford is put under pressure

The Exiles were without captain Matty Dolan with his spot, and the armband, going to Mickey Demetriou after his return from Covid.

Scot Bennett also dropped out of the starting line-up with the inclusion of Liverpool loanee Jake Cain meaning they started in a 4-4-2 with a diamond.

Goalkeeper Tom King and right-back Liam Shephard, starters in the play-off final defeat to Morecambe, were denied a warm reception on their return to Newport and the visitors were without goal threats Conor McAleny and Ian Henderson.

After a quiet opening – in more ways than one – it was County that had the first big chance after 11 minutes.

Ollie Cooper was worked in down the right and crossed along the deck but Dom Telford failed to get enough on his effort when sliding in and King stopped on the line.

The striker had a grumble to referee Brett Huxtable after claiming a shirt pull but still should have made it 1-0.

Salford’s dangerman Brandon Thomas-Asante then tested Townsend with a fierce drive after being sent wide by Demetriou but his effort was well held.

County were the side on the front foot but it remained goalless approaching the half hour after Ollie Cooper failed to get enough curl on an effort from outside the box and then he drove in a cross that Courtney Baker-Richardson could not divert on target.

Shephard’s afternoon was ended by a groin injury and the Ammies had a spell of pressure, looking to follow Walsall’s lead by thriving from set plays.

County, to Rowberry’s displeasure, were not looking after the ball and needed a good save by Townsend low to his left to stay on level terms after Matty Lund linked up with Thomas-Asante.

It looked set to be goalless at the break but then the Exiles got hit by a counter-attack, seeming to get a little narrow when scrambling.

Demetriou had to come out to pressure a potential shot, the ball was worked to the right where Tylor Golden chipped a cross to the far post.

Josh Morris drove the ball into the box and it was deflected in off Azaz, the ball hitting the far post on its way in.

Rowberry sprinted to the changing room at the whistle and demanded the players followed his lead to make the most of the break.

The same XI returned for the second half but they were soon down 2-0 after being outmuscled in midfield before Asante-Thomas shifted the ball onto his left inside the box and gave Townsend no chance.

County needed a swift response but the first change was at full-back with Ryan Haynes coming on for Aaron Lewis after 55 minutes.

Azaz worked a yard to fire a left-footed shot in after 64 minutes but it was another simple save for King.

Rowberry responded with a double change with 23 to go, bringing on Scot Bennett and Lewis Collins for Azaz and Cain.

County needed a goal to make it a nervy finish but Telford wasted a second chance of the afternoon with quarter of an hour to go, nodding wide from a central position when unmarked from a Robbie Willmott free-kick.

A break in play for a head injury gave the manager the chance to get his players in a huddle and tell them to “Have a bit of [deleted word] belief” with 11 to go.

County were bossing possession as Salford looked to hold what they had yet they still failed to cause King into heroics as the clock ticked down.

The Ammies got the clean sheet they wanted to make it an afternoon to forget for County, and grim viewing on the laptop for their supporters.

County: Townsend, Norman, Lewis (Haynes 55), Clarke, Demetriou, Willmott, Cain (Bennett 66), Azaz (Collins 66), Cooper, Telford, Baker-Richardson.
Substitutes: Day, Haynes, Farquharson, Fisher, Abraham.

Salford: King, Love, Lowe, Eastham, Lund, Morris, Turnbull, Oteh, Shephard, Thomas-Asante, Vassell.
Substitutes: Torrance, Smith, Ndaba, Golden, Mellor, Wright.

Referee: Brett Huxtable