NEWPORT County AFC failed to halt the Mansfield juggernaut after suffering a 2-0 defeat in League Two.

The Exiles, looking nervously over their shoulders at the relegation zone, headed to Field Mill hunting an upset against a Stags side hunting automatic promotion.

However, Graham Coughlan's injury-hit side were unable to end Mansfield's unbeaten league run in their 17th game of the campaign.

County made a nightmare start to trail from the fourth minute courtesy of a defensive error that was pounced on by Davis Keillor-Dunn.

In-form Exiles goalkeeper Nick Townsend saved Rhys Oates' penalty after half an hour to keep it a one-goal game at the break.

However, the Stags took command in the 51st minute when Keillor-Dunn calmly side-footed in from George Maris’ defence-splitter then safely saw out the game to climb to second.

County gave a reasonable account of themselves against a promotion contender but, once again, lacked a bit of quality in the final third.

Things don’t get any easier with a Rodney Parade encounter against leaders Stockport next up but there were some flashes of encouragement, with fit-again Bristol City striker Seb Palmer-Houlden making an impression off the bench.

At least the gap to the drop zone remains a healthy five – the four teams beneath them faced each other and shared the spoils – and there should be some reinforcements for the hectic December schedule.

Coughlan went with the side that started the second half of the EFL Trophy clash with Bristol Rovers.

In the absence of Matt Baker, who is on Wales Under-21s duty, midfielder James Waite made his first League Two start since the start of October.

The Exiles stuck with three centre-backs with versatile Shane McLoughlin continuing on the right of the trio, where he had deputised against the Gas in the absence of Baker, Declan Drysdale, James Clarke and Kyle Jameson.

County started well with neat combination play creating a half-chance for Omar Bogle on the edge of the area but the striker didn't manage a clean connection.

South Wales Argus: OPENER: Mansfield hit the front against County through David Keillor-DunnOPENER: Mansfield hit the front against County through David Keillor-Dunn (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

The Exiles were soon playing catch-up with Keillor-Dunn pouncing on a defensive error in the fourth minute.

A cross came in from the right and Scot Bennett made a mess of his clearance with the Stags man beating Waite to the loose ball before slotting past Nick Townsend.

The Exiles responded well with top scorer Will Evans stealing possession in the final third but his shot from the edge of the area was well blocked by former Cardiff defender Aden Flint.

The next goal was vital for the Exiles and thankfully the classy Keillor-Dunn couldn't find the left-footed finish to match his touch after bringing down a long diagonal in the 17th minute, Townsend saving easily.

The pitch, already iffy in mid-November, was not making passing football easy but Mansfield gradually got on top.

Mansfield should have doubled their lead after half an hour when Bennett was beaten down the Exiles' right flank by Oates and then tangled with the forward in the box.

Oates took responsibility from the spot but his low effort was saved to his right by Townsend, then the penalty taker got in a mess with Keillor-Dunn in a bid to fire in the rebound.

Coughlan's frustration in the away dugout at a ground where he used to ply his trade in the home one led to a yellow card from referee Thomas Kirk, shortly after Bogle had become the first player in the book.

It remained 1-0 at the break but only after a Callum Johnson cross hit the top of the bar after a deflection off Matty Bondswell.

South Wales Argus: CHALLENGE: Will Evans helps County clear their lines at MansfieldCHALLENGE: Will Evans helps County clear their lines at Mansfield (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

County started the second half well with Evans testing Christy Pym inside the first minute after aneat flick by Nathan Wood.

That was followed by a couple of openings for Bogle with the striker trying to slot in partner Evans with the first before having a shot from a tight angle blocked.

Coughlan made his first change just four minutes into the half with striker Palmer-Houlden coming on for Wood.

It was the Bristol City prospect's first League Two game since a hamstring injury in August after his successful return in the EFL Trophy.

That was soon followed by a chance for former Exile Aaron Lewis, who forced his former teammate Townsend into a stop with drive from inside the box.

However, there was no mistake in the 51st minute when Evans was dispossessed in midfield. George Maris split the defence to find Keillor-Dunn, who calmly side-footed past Townsend.

It was far, far too easy after a good start to the second half and it was soon almost 3-0 and a hat-trick but the dangerman couldn’t hit the target after a flowing move.

Coughlan responded with a change that added solidity and also got valuable minutes into the legs of fit-again centre-back James Clarke, who came on for Bondswell.

County produced a nice move in the 60th minute with good link-up play by Lewis Payne and Bogle creating a shooting opportunity for Evans, but his side-footed effort was straight at Pym.

The forward felt he was caught after his shot but his penalty appeal was waved away.

The Exiles were having a good spell but needed a bit more quality in the final third, a familiar grumble of late.

It took a strong block by Lewis Brunt after Evans latched onto a ball inside the box and it remained 2-0 after 70 minutes.

Mansfield nearly sealed it with a Baily Cargill header and then a counter-attack that ended with Lucas Akins shooting straight at Townsend.

The Stags were easing their way to the three points and it took a smart stop by Townsend to deny Keillor-Dunn his hat-trick after fast feet in the box after 87 minutes.

Mansfield took the spoils, County at least didn’t appear to pick up any more injuries from what was always going to be a tough assignment.

Mansfield scorers: Keillor-Dunn (2).

County: Townsend, Payne, Bennett, Delaney (captain), Bondswell (Clarke 54), Waite, McLoughlin, Morris, Wood (Palmer-Houlden 49), Evans, Bogle.

Substitutes: Maxted, Sanca, Young, Thomas.

Yellow: Bogle, Bennett, Morris, Clarke.

Referee: Thomas Kirk.

Attendance: 6,877 (223 County).