AS 3-0 defeats go, this was a pretty good one.

Sounds absurd, of course, to begin on a positive note after a scoreline that suggests a walloping at a place that’s never too happy a hunting ground for the Exiles, but County’s current crop have earned some leeway.

It is, after all, the season of goodwill to all men and the Exiles will be exceedingly frustrated with themselves to have been soundly beaten in a game that they dominated, for 40 minutes at least.

Frustrated to lose for the first time in ten games, for the first time since the start of October and to a scoreline of 3-0 in a contest where the possession and number of chances created by both sides was identical.

County responded superbly to what was a dreadful start when they conceded within five minutes, riding out a period where tempers frayed and the referee lost his grip on proceedings and carving out enough chances to go into the interval at least level.

However, County found home goalkeeper Mark Tyler in super form and missed by millimetres with the woodwork proving another enemy when their big moments arrived.

They compounded that by inexplicably starting the second period just as they did the first, conceding another poor goal, this time within six minutes of the restart.

And while the Exiles again responded in a manner that will have heartened their supporters, the damage was done.

Luton’s defence is the second best so far this season in Sky Bet League Two and with 8000 vocal supporters behind them and one of the strongest squads in the division, Newport never looked capable of staging an unlikely comeback. The late third goal merely rubbed salt in the wounds.

County most certainly missed Andrew Hughes, to the point that it would be surprising if Regan Poole isn’t given a start against either Plymouth or Cheltenham or both.

However, the absence of Aaron O’Connor was most keenly felt, because an in-form striker might have had a hat-trick with County carving out numerous opportunities.

The Exiles matched the Hatters shot for shot in a very even encounter, both sides recording 17 efforts on goal apiece and even going neck-and-neck with their on and off target ratio, 11 and six respectively. County had more corners.

However, Luton delivered in the big moments and Newport didn’t.

Mark Tyler was imperious in the home goal and Jamie Stephens was frustrated in the away one. Both goalkeepers made a string of impressive saves, but Tyler’s performance was blemish free and Stephens missed a punch from one cross and was fully punished as the Hatters went 2-0 ahead.

Luton striker Mark Cullen worked tirelessly without reward but his midfielders and defenders delivered the goals for him. Newport striker Shaun Jeffers worked tirelessly and was denied by the home goalkeeper and his midfielders and defenders hit the woodwork and forced super saves. The big moments went for Luton, they delivered and County didn’t.

The Hatters took the lead on just four minutes when Luke Wilkinson headed home from a corner after Jamie Stephens had made a fingertip save to deny Jonathan Smith at his near post as the midfielder tried to trick him with his eyes.

It was only the second goal County have conceded from a set-piece this season, so it will hurt even more.

County thought they had equalised when Lee Minshull’s header from Andy Sandell’s corner rebounded back off the crossbar and away to safety, with Minshull claiming it had crossed the line, but without the technology the big boys enjoy, we’ll simply never know.

The hosts moved into the ascendancy and looked to put Newport out of sight as tensions nearly boiled over, Steve McNulty smashed into Lee Minshull and challenges became feisty as the players began reacting to each indiscretion – as they became more and more frequent, referee Darren Drysdale struggling to control the game as the crowd seethed, two Luton players booked, but no County cards. Mr Drysdale didn’t appear for the second period.

But the Exiles survived some testing moments and should have gone into the break at least level, Lee Minshull hitting the crossbar with a header and Shaun Jeffers denied twice, once by a brilliant Mark Tyler save and once by his own feet betraying him at the vital moment.

And minutes into the second half it was game, set and match to Luton as Stephens made a really poor judgement and tried to punch a ball that was never his, allowing Luke Rooney to smash home into an empty net.

The Exiles were again not to be denied from a really decent effort at reducing the arrears, but super stops from man of the match Mark Tyler denied sub Rene Howe, Chris Zebroski, Ismail Yakubu and Jeffers again as the hosts held firm. Even when County did seem to have Tyler beaten, defenders managed to block as Newport were denied; they simply couldn’t make their pressure count as the hosts did.

Stephens at least partially made up for his error, however, by denying Mark Cullen the chance to add an undeserved gloss to proceedings and keeping the damage down in a final ten minutes where the Exiles did begin to look a bit sorry for themselves, only for sub Jake Howells to ruin all that, finishing with a flourish at the near post in stoppage time as he flicked home Adam Drury’s smart centre.

So no merry Christmas for Newport County in 2014 after a superb run of form, with the job now to ensure they can give their supporters a Happy New Year.

Luton: Tyler, Smith, McNulty, Drury, Griffiths, Cullen, Rooney (Lafayette 81), Whalley (Howells 72), Harriman, Doyle, Wilkinson

Subs not used: Franks, Justham, Miller, Stevenson, Connolly

Booked: McNulty, Doyle, Cullen

Newport: Stephens, Jackson, Jones, Yakubu, Sandell, Byrne, Minshull (Howe 64), Porter (Chapman 58), Klukowski, Jeffers, Zebroski

Subs not used: Pidgeley, Poole, Flynn, Crow, Collins

Booked: None

Referee: Darren Drysdale

Attendance: 8383