NEWPORT County AFC's unlikely bid for the League Two play-offs suffered a blow with a 1-0 defeat at promotion-chasing Barrow.

The Exiles were edged out in a scrappy encounter at Holker Street after Cole Stockton's finish in the 20th minute.

The striker was found in space inside the area by former County finisher Dom Telford and he made no mistake, drilling past Nick Townsend.

The Exiles failed to ramp up the pressure on the Bluebirds after the break - manager Graham Coughlan labelled the performance as "cr*p" - with Paul Farman having just one save of note to make, palming Seb Palmer-Houlden's strike away.

Here are some talking points after the clash in Cumbria...

South Wales Argus: TUSSLE: Harry Charsley looks to create something for County at BarrowTUSSLE: Harry Charsley looks to create something for County at Barrow (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


County paid the price for not making the most of having the wind at their backs in the first half in Wrexham before Christmas and this time they failed in the second 45.

The Exiles were pinned back in the first half and failed to hold up the ball, with Palmer-Houlden guilty of giving away too many cheap free-kicks with his youthful exuberance.

They had no platform – one of those games where Omar Bogle is missed? – but in truth they would have been not too disheartened to be 1-0 down after Barrow failed to seriously ramp up the pressure.

The Bluebirds were arguably better after the break and their experience up front showed, giving the hosts the chance to get the ball down in midfield rather than slamming it up in the air and then back-pedalling.

Barrow are used to the meteorological challenges of Holker Street and it showed as they created the better chances in the second half.

Flat County, who lacked their usual snap and fire, failed to build up a head of steam and were poor with their accuracy to the front line and wasteful when they did get in the final third.

South Wales Argus: PRESSURE: Lewis Payne snaps away for County at BarrowPRESSURE: Lewis Payne snaps away for County at Barrow (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


Kyle Jameson, on the left of the three and recently back from injury, was County’s only first-choice defender in Cumbria.

Scot Bennett has moved back from midfield through necessity and done well while Matt Baker’s absence duty to Wales Under-21s duty led to Harrison Bright getting a chance on the right.

It was a tough task for the 20-year-old from Blaenavon, who had never started in League Two and had last been in a County XI at Swindon in the EFL Trophy in November, 2021.

Added to that, Bright is a right-back by trade and he slotted into a side in which no player managed a performance above a 5/10.

The academy graduate was clanger-free but a little wasteful in possession – into the breeze he produced a lovely ball for Aaron Wildig to lob wide but he failed to adjust to the wind being at his back – and his pass accuracy was just 42 per cent.

Time will tell if Bright remains at the club next season but after a reasonable effort he will hope for another opportunity in the run-in, perhaps at the expense of Southampton prospect Lewis Payne in his proper position.

County, meanwhile, must assess whether they need more defensive options for next season; has it purely been misfortune or do they have a lack of durability?

Jameson had a long spell out, Ryan Delaney, James Clarke and Josh Seberry, who really grasped his Football League opportunity until a broken leg at Notts County, are currently sidelined, while injury-plagued Declan Drysdale is on the comeback trail again.

Baker will be back from international duty for Colchester on Good Friday.


Every cloud and all that – County are mathematically safe in a season where many of us were fearing a relegation scrap.

They will soon get the three points needed to beat last season’s tally of 57, which is Coughlan’s motivation tool.

But on what felt like League Two moving day, with Wrexham, Stockport and Mansfield tlooking good for the top three and MK Dons and Crewe faltering, the surprise bid for the play-offs looks to be a long shot.

That’s not really down to the disappointment in Barrow – it was always going to be a tough game regardless of performance – but the result from Tranmere.

Crawley, who were mightily impressive when beating the Exiles 4-1 in a September heatwave, left Prenton Park with three points.

That was as big a statement of intent as the Exiles’ success at AFC Wimbledon.

The Reds are now four points ahead of County and have a game in hand, although there are twists and turns ahead.

The Exiles travel to Colchester on Good Friday when Crawley host in-form Doncaster, then they meet at Rodney Parade.

The Reds then travel to Mansfield and Wrexham, so there is still hope of catching them, but that Bank Holiday Monday clash really needs to be one of at least five wins from the Exiles’ last seven.

It’s worth remembering Coughlan’s comments in mid-February: "If people get excited and carried away then I don't want them to get too disappointed if it doesn't come off.”

After Chesterfield secured one of 24 spots in the fourth tier by claiming the National League title on Saturday, the Easter fixtures will go a long way towards determining whether the Exiles will face the Spireites.

County are at least the equal of their play-off contenders when on it but they cannot afford any more off days.

However, be grateful they aren't in the fascinating scramble to avoid the drop in which Sutton have suddenly given themselves hope of a great escape.