NEWPORT County AFC need a perfect finish to even stand a chance of sneaking into the League Two play-offs after promotion rivals Sutton United somehow took the spoils.

The Exiles were comfortably the better team at Gander Green Lane yet it was the Londoners that took the spoils thanks to a penalty.

It leaves James Rowberry’s side needing to beat Colchester at Rodney Parade on Friday to stay alive in the tight tussle for the top seven, then follow up against Port Vale and Rochdale.

It’s knockout football, County are still only three points back on the play-offs and miracles happen, but this feels like game over.

They have to try and take it to the final day after a mystifying defeat in Sutton – County gave everything and were better in all departments but a goal eluded them.

They had the better of the first half but trailed after a penalty just before the break by Rob Milsom, who punished Scot Bennett after he was adjudged to have brought down lively David Ajiboye by dangling a leg.

The Exiles were in front with all the major stats but trailed on the scoreboard at the break and the theme continued after the restart as the visitors dominated.

The post saved Sutton defender Louis John from putting into his own net after 66 minutes and that was as close as they were to come on a frustrating afternoon in London.

It now leaves them needing a strange sequence of results if they are to return to the English capital at the end of May.

South Wales Argus:

Rowberry made three changes with Ryan Haynes replacing Aaron Lewis down the left and Rob Street getting the nod ahead of Courtney Baker-Richardson up front.

Club captain Matty Dolan also returned for young Liverpool midfielder Jake Cain, earning a promotion from the bench for a first start in a month.

That meant a return to the pre-match uncertainty about County’s shape and they started in their usual 4-2-2-2 with Dolan next to Bennett in midfield rather than at the heart of a three-man defence.

It was a cagey start with the solitary incident of real note being a Finn Azaz shot/cross after seven minutes that went just past the far post when he had shown fast feet on the right of the box.

County would have been pleased with the opening and they went close with a quickfire pair of chances after 15 and 17 minutes.

James Waite fired in a powerful drive after Bennett lofted a clearance from a throw-in back into the box but ‘keeper Dean Bouzanis was up to the task.

That was a central effort but the stopper had to be even more alert shortly afterwards, diving to his right when Dolan fizzed in a low shot that was destined for the near post.

County were doing a good job against the dangerman Ajiboye, who caused them all manner of problems at Rodney Parade, and were working themselves into some promising positions where a bit more quality was needed.

Then they were hit by a sucker punch on the stroke of half-time when Ajiboye got himself in a one-on-one with Bennett in the box and went down.

Referee Ollie Yates pointed to the spot – it looked soft but probably fair – and Rob Milsom blasted it left-footed past Joe Day, who was yet to make a save, into the right of the goal.

South Wales Argus:

County needed a response and started the second half brightly but couldn’t find the final ball from a pair of rapid counters.

Telford was a yard wide with a header from 10 yards after Demetriou hurled in a long throw and then turned provider with a nod down to Street, who fired well over the bar on the turn with both efforts from close to the penalty spot.

County were ramping up the pressure and causing all manner of problems only for the final ball to elude them and it remained 1-0 past the hour.

They were agonisingly close to the leveller that their efforts deserved after 66 minutes when Sutton defender Louis John sliced a ball up over Bouzanis from a long clearance only for the ball to rebound clear from the inside of the right post.

County needed something and sacrificed Bennett for Baker-Richardson in the 78th minute, a change promptly followed by Waite slicing an effort wide from the edge of the box after another Demetriou throw.

Rowberry had a last throw of the dice in the 88th minute when he brought on 43-year-old Kevin Ellison for Palace youngster Street.

Somehow there were only four minutes of time added on – a decision that led to Rowberry being booked for dissent – and Sutton got over the line.

They are looking good to extend their season while County need nine points and some help from elsewhere.

Sutton: Bouzanis, Barden, Goodliffe, John, Ajiboye, Davies, Eastmond (captain), Olaofe, Boldewijn, Milsom, Bennett.
Substitutes: Nelson, Wyatt, Rowe, Bugiel, Korboa, Wilson, Smith.
Yellow: Bennett, Bouzanis, Milsom.
Goal: Milsom.

County: Day; Norman, Clarke, Demetriou, Haynes; Dolan (captain), Bennett (Baker-Richardson 78), Azaz, Waite (Collins 84); Telford, Street (Ellison 87).
Substitutes: Townsend, Pask, Lewis, Cain, Ellison.
Yellow: Norman, Dolan.

Referee: Ollie Yates
Attendance: 3,447 (452 County)