EVEN the most optimistic of Newport County AFC supporters will admit that the promotion bid is over after they threw away a lead to go down 2-1 to Colchester United.

The Exiles suffered a fourth loss on the spin at Rodney Parade to a side that are now mathematically safe in League Two.

County will play Colchester next season after failing to move back into the play-off spots and their slim hopes of being in the mix for the top seven are likely to be killed off before they head to Port Vale on Monday, May 2.

Manager James Rowberry acknowledged that they needed at least seven points from three games to stand a chance but now the maximum they can manage is six.

This was one that got away against a limited side that promotion contenders simply must beat on home soil.

County led 1-0 at the break thanks to Dom Telford’s strike, a first since February 26 to end a 10-game drought for the man who is poised to win the League Two golden boot.

They had a strong shout for a penalty before half-time but failed to build on their opener after the break to leave themselves vulnerable.

So it proved when targetman John Akinde, fresh from the bench, deflected in a shot in the 68th minute.

South Wales Argus: WINNER: Noah Chilvers slots past Joe DayWINNER: Noah Chilvers slots past Joe Day

It got worse when Noah Chilvers had the time to roll past Joe Day from a counter-attack in the 77th minute.

County needed two goals but got none, meaning that the season will end on May 8 and there will be no return to Wembley.

Rowberry made two changes to his defence from the loss at Sutton, bringing back Aaron Lewis for Ryan Haynes at left-back while on-loan Coventry centre-back Josh Pask featured for the first time since February 19 instead of James Clarke.

County dominated possession in the opening exchanges without cutting open the U’s; the first goal was always going to be key after the frustration of firing a blank at Sutton.

It got to halfway through the first half without a clear chance on goal with the closest thing to an opening being a left-footed shot by Finn Azaz that dribbled a couple of yards wide of the goal.

The Aston Villa loanee then turned creator approaching the half hour when he played in Rob Street down the right but the Crystal Palace prospect hit the side-netting with a powerful effort from a tight angle.

Rowberry was switching between frustration and showing encouragement in his technical area, knowing that getting their noses in front was vital. One brings two and all that.

Azaz went close again after 35 minutes with a drive from the left edge of the box that flashed a yard wide of the near post after Aaron Lewis and James Waite combined with a quick throw.

South Wales Argus: OPENER: Dom Telford scoresOPENER: Dom Telford scores

The settler was needed and it came in the 40th minute after a crucial bit of play by Pask, who took the opportunity to drive forward with the ball.

He found Azaz, who played the ball into the box and it was deflected into the air for Telford to scruffily finish with his right peg for number 25 (26 including EFL Trophy) of a remarkable campaign.

County had their lead and should have had the chance to double it before the break when Street went down under pressure in the box. Referee Tom Reeves, to the annoyance of captain Matty Dolan, shook his head.

The Exiles failed to pick up where they left off in the second half and at 1-0 they were always at risk of gifting a poor Colchester side a leveller.

That almost proved the case on 56 minutes when possession was gifted away and it took a Pask block to deny Freddie Sears in the box.

County followed that when Azaz worked the ball to Dolan on the edge of the area but his low shot was well saved down to his right by Shamal George, who gathered at the second attempt.

Up the other end Emyr Huws gave another warning when he flicked a header a couple of yards wide from close to the penalty spot (Joe Day had it comfortably covered) and it remained 1-0 on the hour.

Then came County’s nightmare moment with Akinde winning a corner and then, after the hosts failed to clear their lines, deflecting in a shot by Sears.

The Exiles needed a winner and brought Ollie Cooper and Courtney Baker-Richardson off the bench in the 74th minute.

Instead it was Colchester that hit the front with Chilvers rolling past Day after the County defence was dragged out of shape all too easy on a counter-attack after Lewis was disposed on halfway.

Azaz had another chance in the 81st minute after a driving run by Waite down the left but the midfielder failed to hit the target from just inside the box.

County went for broke by bringing on attacker Lewis Collins for centre-back Mickey Demetriou with seven minutes to go.

Cooper was denied by a block in the box as the clock ticked towards 90 and a deflated County were unable to even salvage a draw to end the losing streak at home.

County: Day, Norman, Pask, Demetriou (Collins 83), Lewis, Bennett (Cooper 73), Dolan (captain), Azaz, Waite, Telford, Street (Baker-Richardson 73).
Substitutes: Townsend, Haynes, Cain, Fisher.
Yellow: Dolan, Lewis
Goals: Telford

Colchester: George, Chambers, Smith (captain), Wiredu, Skuse, Judge, Sears, Chilvers, Kenlock, Tchamadeu, Huws.
Substitutes: Hornby, Hannant, Edwards, Eastman, Akinde, Coxe, Wright.
Yellow: Wiredu, Huws, Skuse, George.
Goals: Akinde, Chilvers.

Referee: Tom Reeves.
Attendance: 5,989 (178 away)