NEWPORT County AFC lost three games on the spin for the first time under Graham Coughlan after a nightmare start and a 4-0 hammering by League Two play-off hopefuls Crawley Town.

The Reds took the lead inside the first minute at Rodney Parade through Dion Conroy and, against the run of play, were 2-0 up at the break thanks to Ronan Darcy’s well-taken but poorly-defended strike in the 26th minute.

The visitors killed the game to give their top-seven hopes a big lift in the 69th minute when more sloppy play at the back allowed Laurence Maguire to finish inside the box from a free-kick.

A miserable afternoon was compounded by more defensive injuries to Scot Bennett and Lewis Payne, the latter meaning they finished down to 10 men due to already having made three stoppages for substitutions.

Crawley twisted the knife in added time when Adam Campbell fired in from a cross as the Sussex side took a big step towards the play-offs.

A third loss on the bounce, after away defeats to Barrow and Colchester, means the Exiles remain two points shy of manager Coughlan’s target of hitting last season’s tally.

It also kills off the very, very slim chances of sneaking into the play-offs with a squad that has been hit hard by injury and with players running on fumes.

South Wales Argus: DOUBLE: Ronan Darcy curls in Crawley's second at Newport CountyDOUBLE: Ronan Darcy curls in Crawley's second at Newport County (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

County are now seven points behind seventh-placed Crawley, who also have a game in hand.

It is worth remembering how well the Exiles have done to be secure while Grimsby, Colchester, Sutton and Forest Green fight for their Football League lives.

However, they will be keen to ensure that effort is reflected by their league placing with five more games to go and they need to generate some more fizz after another flat display.

County hadn’t lost three on the spin since the final two games of the James Rowberry era and fixture when sporting director Darren Kelly was in charge, that fixture coming against Crawley in Sussex in October, 2022.

Coughlan made one change to the side that started in Colchester with striker Seb Palmer-Houlden coming in for right wing-back Payne.

That led to a switch to a 4-3-3 with central defender Matt Baker filling in at right-back, but there was barely time to settle into that shape before Crawley were in front.

A corner on the right was played back for Will Wright to cross and Conroy got a yard on Scot Bennett to sweep in on the volley after just 50 seconds.

In an open start, Will Evans cut in from the right but the shot from the edge of the area was straight at Corey Addai and he held it comfortably.

County responded well and should have been level in the 14th minute when Evans beat the offside trap but, after a poor first touch, seemed to lack conviction in his one-on-one and was denied by the legs of Addai.

The top scorer then had another attempt from a free-kick on the edge of the box but his effort was blocked by Palmer-Houlden, who was in an offside position in front of the ‘keeper.

The Exiles kept pushing for the leveller but chances were wasted with Offrande Zanzala twice failing to get his shot off in the box and Evans unlucky to cut the ball back behind his fellow attackers.

For all that pressure, the next goal was a Crawley one in the 26th minute.

Nick Tsaroulla won a strong tackle with Evans and the ball was played down to the other end, where Darcy made the most of some initial hesitancy in the box by Baker.

From there he was able to jink across far, far too easily before giving Townsend no chance with a firm finish.

South Wales Argus: DESPAIR: County striker Will EvansDESPAIR: County striker Will Evans (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

That took the wind out of County and they were glad to see another Darcy shot roll slowly against the left post and then Klaidi Lolos failed to make the most of getting behind Bennett from a long ball.

The striker wasted another opening after 36 minutes when he couldn’t gather a through ball as Crawley looked to put the game beyond their hosts.

County suffered another blow to their already stretched defence in the 40th minute when Bennett limped off and right-back Harrison Bright came on, Baker moving to his preferred central position.

There was time for one County half-chance before the break but a good tackle in the box denied Evans and the hosts had a big task ahead of them.

It was a subdued start to the second half, which suited the Reds, and it remained 2-0 on the hour without any chances of note.

County needed a lift and turned to the old Bryn Morris routine from a free-kick but the midfielder was closed down on the edge of the box and fired well over.

The final roll of the dice came in the 68th minute with the introduction of fit-again Omar Bogle and fellow striker Luke Jephcott, only for the lift to be followed by dozy defending straight away.

A free-kick was put into the box and Maguire finished smartly at the back post to give Townsend no chance again.

County were done and their chances of making a game of it was ended when Payne went down off the ball clutching his leg, leading to Evans filling in at left-back.

The game drifted along until in the first added minute – with County down to 10 and midfielder Aaron Wildig hobbling around – Campbell fired in from a cross.

County: Townsend, Baker, Bennett (captain, Bright 39), Jameson, Bondswell (Payne 60), Morris, Wildig, Charsley, Evans, Zanzala (Bogle 67), Palmer-Houlden (Jephcott 67).
Substitutes not used: Maxted, Waite, Rai.
Yellow: Charsley.

Crawley scorers: Conroy, Darcy, Maguire, Campbell.

Referee: Martin Woods.
Attendance: 4,643.