NEWPORT County AFC were reborn to win 2-1 at Port Vale and thrown a spanner in the works of their League Two promotion bid.

The Exiles headed to the Potteries with only pride to play for but led 1-0 at half-time thanks to Ryan Haynes’ strike in the third minute.

The home crowd were restless in the first half but were boisterous when Ben Garrity levelled five minutes after the restart, giving hope of climbing to third in the table.

It was all Vale yet County got their lead back in the 72nd minute when Finn Azaz added a goal to his assist when firing in from the edge of the box after a corner wasn’t cleared.

The Exiles didn’t let the lead slip again, condemning the Valiants to a third defeat on the spin and showing what they are capable of.

Had we seen this County for a few weeks then perhaps they would have been enjoying a promotion party rather than spoiling one.

Pressure, or the relative lack of it, is a funny thing but the Exiles showed their character and professionalism to take three well-deserved points.

They would have loved to have the pressure of a promotion bid but sadly it was the hosts that were under stress.

Vale needed a win to ensure their bid for third was in their own hands with a finale against title-chasing Exeter to come on Saturday.

Instead they are now vulnerable to losing their top-seven spot on last day.

The majority of a bumper crowd were biting fingernails while the Exiles were simply focused on trying to stop the rot before clocking off.

South Wales Argus:

They had been third and hunting automatic promotion when they beat Carlisle on March 25 before a horrendous run of just four points from a possible 21.

County headed to the Potteries with new members in their fan club from Mansfield, Northampton and Bristol.

The Stags missed the chance to go above the Cobblers into third after drawing at Salford in the early kick-off, a result that ended the Ammies’ slim chances of making the play-offs.

The other promotion hopefuls would have been waiting to see County’s selection and would have been relieved to see that while there were five changes to the XI, all the new starters were regulars.

Goalkeeper Nick Townsend got the nod in his duel with Joe Day, James Clarke returned for the injured Mickey Demetriou at the heart of the defence, Ryan Haynes came in at left-back, Jake Cain slotted into midfield and Courtney Baker-Richardson led the line.

Kick-off revealed that County had reverted to 3-5-2 from their 4-2-2-2 with captain Matty Dolan in between Clarke and Pask.

They soon had a lead to protect after Azaz got in down the right and drove a low ball across goal.

It just eluded Dom Telford but Haynes attacked it at the far post to slam past Aidan Stone with his unfavoured right boot, a fine finish after superb approach play by the Aston Villa loanee.

South Wales Argus:

Vale responded well but didn’t force Townsend into action while County looked threatening with the ball on the deck in the final third.

The home crowd were restless and weren’t helping their side with grumbles about backward passes.

County had a pair of chances on the break approaching the half-hour but both Azaz and Telford could only drive straight at Stone, with the striker going for the near post rather than across the ‘keeper with Baker-Richardson ready to gamble.

The Exiles were finding space in front of the Vale defence with Cain and Azaz loving life but they needed to strike for a second.

They made it to half-time with their lead intact with the whistle bizarrely leading to a smattering of boos from the home stands.

The shot count was 6-2 to the Exiles, four of their efforts on target to none by the hosts.

A response was inevitable and Vale started strongly to get the crowd on side, albeit they still failed to test Townsend from a pair of dangerous deliveries from the left flank.

However, Vale Park went bonkers after 50 minutes when a dinked cross from the left went just over the head of Pask for Garrity to control and then calmly finish.

Rowberry responded by bringing on Ollie Cooper for Cain, then Rob Street came on for Baker-Richardson up front approaching the hour.

County were under the pump and the atmosphere had changed with the momentum, the Exiles unable to get Azaz into the game.

However, the clock was not Vale’s friend… before the visitors got their lead back.

A Dolan corner from the right was headed clear to Azaz and the League Two young player of the season showed more evidence of his bright promise, driving in a left-footed shot from the edge of the area.

After the celebrations died down the hosts had 16 minutes to respond twice yet suddenly it was the Exiles, and that man Azaz, back on top.

However, it took a solid stop by Townsend to deny substitute David Amoo after County were caught in possession.

Azaz was denied a clincher with four minutes to go by the legs of Stone and there was still some hope for Vale.

Telford selfishly went for goal rather than slipping in Cooper in the first of five minutes of added time but thankfully it didn’t matter.

Too little, too late in terms of a promotion bid but perhaps a glimpse of what can come again next season.

Port Vale: Stone, Smith, Martin, Hussey, Worrall, Pett, Charsley, Benning, Garrity, Proctor, Wilson.
Substitutes: Holy, Gibbons, Taylor, Amoo, Robinson, Harratt, Edmundson.
Goal: Garrity

County: Townsend, Norman, Pask, Clarke, Haynes (Lewis 73), Bennett, Dolan (captain), Cain (Cooper 52), Azaz, Telford, Baker-Richardson (Street 58).
Substitutes not used: Day, Waite, Collins, Fisher.
Goals: Haynes, Azaz.

Referee: Carl Brooks
Attendance: 9,048 (318 County)