NEWPORT County AFC ensured their supporters a very merry Christmas and a Happy New Year as they made it two wins on the spin over the festive period.

Chris Zebroski’s first half strike, a superb defensive display and a whole lot of Welsh hywl were the difference as the Exiles powered up the table and gave the perfect response to their 3-0 thumping at Kenilworth Road.

The Exiles are again looking in rude form at the turn of the year and with Joe Day and Darcy Blake expected to arrive shortly, really look like the real deal in the race for League Two promotion.

The hosts are the ones who have been performing below expectations this term, having already dismissed long-standing manager Mark Yates and now adapting to a new style with Paul Buckle at the helm.

They attempted to counter Newport’s system with two banks of four and in the early exchanges had by far the better intensity, only a major piece of fortune preventing the Robins from taking a lead inside five minutes.

The Exiles were concentration and composure personified against Plymouth on Boxing Day but began hesitantly at a freezing Whaddon Road, the Robins millimetres from going ahead when Zack Kotwica fed striker Terry Gornell. However, with the goal at his mercy the forward could only shoot straight at Jamie Stephens, who more by luck than judgement saw the ball ricochet off the post and back into his grasp as Omari Sterling-James looked to poke home the rebound.

It was a major let-off for Newport and they took full advantage, scoring with their first effort on target on ten minutes as they provided the hosts a valuable lesson in precise finishing as Adam Chapman coasted clear and fed Chris Zebroski who finished brilliantly, rolling the ball with precision to the bottom corner and beyond Trevor Carson’s despairing dive.

That triggered an onslaught from the Exiles who needed the comfort of a second, but Shaun Jeffers and Mark Byrne missed the target before a superb clearance from Braham-Brown denied Zebroski a second as his cross-cum-shot looked to be sneaking in.

However, while Newport were rampant in attack as the hosts struggled to deal with simple balls over the top – paying the price for a high defensive line that exposed their central defenders – they did carry a punch coming forward and only a fine display by Jamie Stephens and some truly woeful finishing allowed the Exiles to head into the break level.

Right winger Sterling-James was tormentor-in-chief, racing clear on 18 minutes and feeding Gornell but lost a battle of wits with Stephens who came out and spread himself to smother the ball, a fine save from an ever-improving player.

Stephens’ handling was impressive throughout the first period, though he’d have been helpless to prevent Regan Poole’s deflection sneaking in at his near post from Sterling-James’ cross, but the ball dropped agonizingly wide.

Zebroski again went close with a header from Ryan Jackson’s long cross, but it was poor defending that cost Cheltenham, failing to take a chance when a corner wasn’t cleared and then seeing Kane Ferdinand miss on the stroke of half time, kicking fresh air with an opportunity that even now, his cousin Les would’ve buried.

The Exiles were ponderous at the back despite 16-year old Poole again being marshalled by Ismail Yakubu and Darren Jones and excelling, but suffered a blow when he was forced off at the break as Newport introduced Rene Howe and switched to 4-4-2.

They started brightly with Zebroski again going close – put a confident striker on the wing and he’ll still cause chaos – and the extra protection for County’s fullbacks also dulled the sharpness of the Robins in attack.

Zebroski was simply irrepressible against his former club and his terrific run and howitzer of a drive on the hour mark deserved more, Carson saving well moments after he’d been deceived by a Chapman effort than snuck just the wrong side of the post.

The hosts were never lacking in effort, but they looked short of cutting edge, rarely able to trouble the Exiles after their system switch with County the more likely side to add to the scoring.

Only in the final exchanges when Newport began looking to protect, did they have some scary moments to survive but even then did so with aplomb, Darren Jones seemingly with a magnetic attraction to the ball as he cleared cross after cross and secured the points with an incredible tackle to deny Harry Williams.

Cheltenham Town (4-4-1-1): Carson, Braham-Barratt, Brown, Deaman, Sterling-James, Kotwica, Richards, Ferdinand, Williams, Gornell (Dale 85)

Subs not used: Harrison, Haworth, Gould, Black, Bowen, Reynolds

Booked: None

Newport County (5-3-2): Poole (Howe 46), Yakubu, Jones, Jackson, Sandell, Byrne, Chapman (Flynn 87), Klukowski, Jeffers (Porter 71), Zebroski

Subs not used: Pidgeley, Minshull, Jolley, Crow

Booked: Sandell, Jackson, Chapman, Jones, Yakubu, Porter

Referee: Iain Williamson

Attendance: 3417 (1094 Newport)

Argus star man: Darren Jones