THE noise when the final whistle was blown at Rodney Parade at 4.57pm on Monday spoke volumes after a 4-0 defeat – the clack of seats rather than boos.

Newport County AFC’s slim hopes of challenging for the play-offs were ended by seventh-placed Crawley on a grim afternoon in which the hosts were on level terms for all of 50 seconds.

The Reds put themselves in a strong position for the top seven ahead of a pair of far tougher tests, Mansfield at Field Mill on Saturday and Wrexham at the Racecourse on Tuesday.

If they slip up then it will be Morecambe, Gillingham, Wimbledon or Walsall that profit, not County.

Supporters can allow themselves a brief period of disappointment at a missed opportunity before thinking back to July, when trips to Dagenham, Flyde, Maidenhead in 2024/25 looked a real possibility.

The loss of influential players meant relegation was a big fear, so was the future of the club given the perilous state of the finances.

READ MORE: I've let County down - Coughlan

Most fans know the score, they stayed until the end of the Crawley game before quietly heading to the exit in contrast to their Walsall counterparts in February when the Exiles won 3-0 to the sound of boos and anger.

Remarkably, those stroppy Saddlers are now in the mix for the play-offs.

South Wales Argus: WOE: Adam Campbell celebrates Crawley's fourth against CountyWOE: Adam Campbell celebrates Crawley's fourth against County (Image: Huw Evans Agency)

County, meanwhile, have five more games until they can reflect on a dramatic season in which they have switched from highs to lows and rarely occupied middle ground.

The wins against Wrexham, Stockport, Doncaster, Wimbledon, Walsall, Harrogate versus the losses to Notts County (x2), Crawley (x2), MK Dons, Swindon.

Coughlan's class of 2024 tend not to do 'meh'.

This is a hard-working County side who have their limitations and lack a bit of guile and spark, yet will still be able to look on as Grimsby, Sutton, Colchester and Forest Green fight for their Football League lives.

Jobs are on the line for those clubs while the Exiles are secure in the 92 despite two huge injury crises either side of a lucrative FA Cup run that provided the unforgettable afternoon against Manchester United.

Last autumn County could have named a team of outfield players that were on the treatment table and now, after a winter of working towards some selection headaches, the defence has been wiped out.

Naturally, there should be an investigation into that to avoid a repeat next season.

Is it really just down to bad luck? Is it workload? Is it a result of a nomadic training life and switching between grass and 3G? Are new recruits durable enough?

County need more depth for next season and no doubt new owner Huw Jenkins, who enjoyed a big say in recruitment and retention when with Swansea, will play a part in shaping the squad.

The budget isn’t suddenly going to leap so there can be no passengers. The load needs to be shared to avoid a repeat of the current situation where Bryn Morris and Will Evans appear to have completely run out of steam and Scot Bennett has now been broken along with Shane McLoughlin.

Nathan Wood, currently with pace-setting Cork City in Ireland’s second tier, is a perfect example of that – he will return for pre-season and, if he remains in the first team squad, then he needs to be trusted rather than being in the role currently filled by cameo king James Waite.

The current County squad are set to finish with a similar points tally and in a similar position to last year, and taking that next step as a club is tricky given that they will remain one of the division’s lower spenders.

Coughlan & Co will already be plotting for 2024/25 and pondering how they can bridge that gap to the top teams, all while the squad try to raise themselves for 450 more minutes and then a well-earned rest.

The last three games have been depressing but County, to the credit of players and staff, have maxed out this season.

Every club will have their injury gripes and the league table won’t lie come April 27, with the Exiles above that dotted line.

If you'd asked me at The Causeway in Undy last July or Meadow Lane in November when County were four points above the drop zone, I'd have said that is a success.

South Wales Argus: DOWN: Manager Graham Coughlan admitted County's loss to Crawley was his lowest moment at the clubDOWN: Manager Graham Coughlan admitted County's loss to Crawley was his lowest moment at the club (Image: Huw Evans Agency)


When the manager kept hammering home the importance of getting to 57 points to match last season’s total it seemed a needlessly cautious target.

Now it’s a push that will take a big effort.

County need a footballing SodaStream to get some fizz back after three flat performances on the spin.

They head to take on a Grimsby side fighting for their Football League lives and it will be a makeshift defence at Blundell Park.

Barring a miracle, Bennett and Lewis Payne will join Ryan Delaney, James Clarke, Josh Seberry, Declan Drysdale, Adam Lewis and Shane McLoughlin on the sidelines.

County will have just two central defenders in Matt Baker and Kyle Jameson, Harrison Bright will be the option at right-back and arguably top scorer Will Evans would be the more solid and physical option at left-back ahead of Matty Bondswell.

The management find themselves in a position of having to put together a XI with the most experience and then working out a formation. That's the wrong way round.

There are some calls for Coughlan to give youth a chance but that is a serious risk to their development; it needs to be the right opportunity, not just any opportunity.

That being said, it would be nice for teenage defender Nelson Sanca to finally get some minutes in the run-in after being an unused substitute on 14 occasions so far this season.

The decision was made to have a bit of an academy cull last year in the knowledge that the current crop are prospects are not yet ready to influence the first team.

The challenge for them is to narrow the gap over the summer so that they can be the back-ups next season.