NEWPORT County are never out fought, but they were out thought at Sixfields on Saturday.

There is a very valid argument in stating that the Exiles’ 5-3-2 formation hampered them in the second half of last season, more managers than not working out to exploit the weaknesses in the system while County failed to extenuate the positives after Christmas.

It was a contributory factor as one of many reasons why the Exiles fell away so badly – postponements and a horrible pitch didn’t help either – and that makes it tough to criticise Justin Edinburgh and his staff for being bold enough to try something different.

The Exiles have utilised a 3-4-3 system effectively in the past – as evidenced by their Boxing Day win over Wycombe in December 2013 – and will do again, but it misfired badly on Saturday.

From back to front, the Exiles lacked cohesion.

The re-introduction into a back three of Kevin Feely led to a few early teething problems at the back – which the Cobblers ruthlessly exploited – and both Darren Jones and Ismail Yakubu were lacking in terms of their usual standards at distributing the ball.

In midfield, well, there wasn’t really a midfield, Mark Byrne and Adam Chapman utterly overrun with John-Joe O’Toole helping by dropping deep to make the battle four versus two and the Exiles were utterly swamped.

There is a certain irony in the fact that Cobblers boss Chris Wilder is virtually the first rival manager this season to praise the Exiles and to dismiss the notion that County are a long ball side, because Saturday was exactly the occasion for Newport to be just that.

In switching formation and deploying Rene Howe, Chris Zebroski and Shaun Jeffers as a front three, Newport should have been looking to play direct balls into the channels and look to spring at Northampton but instead they laboured, rarely making the best of their possession and rarely exploiting the flanks.

Andy Sandell is far from his best at the moment and Ryan Jackson can be found wanting in terms of his crossing and one would imagine the return of Robbie Willmott can’t come soon enough for Edinburgh, the ex-Cambridge man travelling with Newport to Sixfields and doing a warm-up on the weekend his former side humbled Manchester United.

However, in the absence of Aaron O’Connor who was only fit enough for the bench after a bout of flu, it was in attack that the Exiles floundered the most, because to say they lacked cutting edge would be an understatement, this was more akin to trying to slice through metal with a banana.

County’s most reliable attacking weapon has been Chris Zebroski and on Saturday he was restricted to a single effort on goal in the whole contest, one more than central striker Rene Howe mustered.

Howe has been unfortunate with injuries this term but he’s yet to show more than a few glimpses of his career form in a County shirt and he desperately needs a goal.

In contrast Shaun Jeffers has returned a much more confident player since his loan spell at Brackley, but the former England U19 international is another desperate for goals, because one in 25 makes rough reading for a forward.

Jeffers missed County’s best opportunity of the contest, failing to get over the ball with a headed effort that would have given them more than a glimmer of hope in the second half when they enjoyed their best spell of the game.

This wasn’t a contest full of opportunity, Northampton’s excellent start and ability to capitalise on their pressure the telling factor, because Joe Day barely made a save all afternoon.

His only moment to dazzle came just 120 seconds in when he brilliantly tipped onto the crossbar when the Exiles left Ryan Cresswell unmarked from a corner, but it was to prove in vain.

It was truly fool me once shame on you and fool me twice shame on me as the Exiles conceded from their next corner, Cresswell unattended again as he headed home Joel Byrom’s effort.

Byrom’s boot was a difference maker as the Exiles inexplicably did it again, his third corner of the afternoon finding the head of O’Toole as Day appealed in vain that he’d been impeded.

The Exiles were sent out early for the second half and Edinburgh changed his system a couple of times in the second period, but just as at Cambridge, the damage had been done in the first period.

And despite a resolute display in the second half when Newport certainly didn’t lack for commitment or endeavour as they contested every loose ball and looked to force an opening, in truth, they never really looked likely to do so.

Lawson D’Ath produced a fine strike to give the Cobblers a deserved flourish after an impressive display, but the Exiles will feel they were very much the architects of their own downfall.

The task now is to bounce back and they’ll be grateful for the home comfort of Rodney Parade after a week on the road that certainly bruised the ego.