NEWPORT County AFC let their standards slip at Milton Keynes Dons and were given a 3-0 hammering by the League Two promotion hopefuls.

The Exiles were well beaten in Buckinghamshire with the game gone after half an hour as the fifth-placed Dons kept the heat on the top three.

Dan Kemp side-footed in after 11 minutes, Jack Payne smashed a shot in off the post after 22 and Alex Gilbey rolled in a third after 28.

The Dons should have scored more and County never looked like giving them a nervy finish, firing a black for the first time since before Christmas on a rare off day in 2024.

Graham Coughlan’s side remain 16th in the table, a point off the top half and five off the play-offs with a game in hand on seventh-placed Gillingham.

Here are some talking points from Stadium MK…

South Wales Argus: FINISH: Former County loanee Alex Gilbey scored MK Dons' thirdFINISH: Former County loanee Alex Gilbey scored MK Dons' third (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Dons boss Mike Williamson issued a warning the day before the game.

“When we've watched them they have so much energy, they're industrious, and can create chances out of nothing,” he said.

“They can get at you, pile the box with bodies, and have really in-form players. It will be difficult for us.”

Sadly, County proved him wrong.

This was a performance that contrasted starkly to the rest of the post-Christmas efforts and was a shocker to rival the loss at Notts County.

Thankfully Coughlan’s side are in a much healthier position than they were after the Meadow Lane debacle when it looked like a scrap for their Football League status was likely.

The Exiles have totted up the points with work rate, snap, hustling as core principles to go along with some quality.

None of that was on display in the strange surroundings of a glorious ground that is home to a club with an iffy history.

MK were excellent and followed fellow fluid sides Notts and Crawley in pulling the away-day Exiles all over the place.

On this display are likely to challenge Mansfield, Stockport, Crewe and Wrexham for automatic promotion.

When a side can say that they need to be more clinical after a 3-0 win – at one stage in the second half they wasted a six on three – then they are in good shape.

The Exiles, meanwhile, struggled to make a mark without the ball and with it they had just four shots, all in the second half, (average 11.9 for the season) and were sloppy in possession with 63 per cent passing accuracy (actually a trend for the campaign with a league low 61.5 per cent).

This didn’t feel like the real County and there is one big reason for that…

South Wales Argus: WEARY: County and Bryn Morris weren't on top formWEARY: County and Bryn Morris weren't on top form (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


MK had a Tuesday fixture against Wrexham when County had their feet up but it didn’t show. The Dons flew out of the blocks and the game was pretty much done and dusted after half an hour in a reversal of fortunes from Walsall away.

Despite the disappointment, County remain in with a shot of pushing for the play-offs but one senses there is a reason why Coughlan is happier to talk about targeting 50 points for safety, then bettering last year’s tally of 57.

The manager is tempering expectations but he also knows about the demands he has made on a core of regulars.

County have played 44 fixtures in all competitions and will finish on a total of 57.

Bryn Morris and Scot Bennett have played in every game while Will Evans has racked up 42 appearances.

Aaron Wildig, often labelled as injury-prone, has taken to the field 32 times, veteran James Clarke has played 30 games with one chunk out injured while loanees Seb Palmer-Houlden and Lewis Payne are experiencing a full men’s campaign for the first time.

Ryan Delaney suffered a season-ending injury earlier this month and Shane McLoughlin is being assessed after limping off in Milton Keynes.

The workload is taking its toll on players who have frequently given their all, dusted themselves down and then gone again fuelled by bananas and jelly babies.

County haven’t had the luxury of rotation and rarely has Coughlan been in a position where he can turn to his bench to give a breather, as he was able to for Palmer-Houlden on Saturday.

The Exiles have put in so much physically and don’t underestimate the emotional strain that was put on them by the injury crisis and then the Manchester United game, with the pressure of winning a replay at Eastleight then the excitement of the build-up to the Red Devils clash.

Maybe it’s to be expected that there will be a bit of a drop-off in the run-in, but perhaps this squad will surprise us again versus Harrogate and Mansfield.

Time will tell whether MK was an off-day or a sign of the tank being almost empty for too many players.

South Wales Argus: DENIED: Luke Jephcott went close for County at the deathDENIED: Luke Jephcott went close for County at the death (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Coughlan and his coaching staff have plenty to mull over ahead of Tuesday’s trip to Yorkshire; they aren’t blessed with a glut of options but do have some tinkering that they could do to the XI.

If Kyle Jameson is fit and sharp enough for a first start since August then the centre-back has a real case for coming in, which could allow Scot Bennett to return to midfield.

Lewis Payne needs to grasp his chance if, as surely is likely, he replaces the unlucky McLoughlin.

The front line is an interesting one with Luke Jephcott and Offrande Zanzala pushing for promotions from the bench.

Jephcott was very unlucky not to open his Exiles account at the death when denied by a super save while Zanzala is understandably taking a while to work his way back from a year out after ruptured knee ligaments.

Seb Palmer-Houlden and Will Evans have formed a terrific partnership but think back to Doncaster, when the former came off the bench to make an impact and score the winner.


That Nick Townsend was County’s star performer tells the story of the game, the goalkeeper limited the damage.

He made one superb diving stop from Joe Tomlinson’s drive in first-half added time, saved with his feet from a Kemp close-range effort and tipped Lewis Bate’s shot over acrobatically.

The West Midlander started the year poorly with a costly mistake at Sutton but his response has been excellent.