MARK Byrne’s stunning equaliser earned Newport County AFC a thoroughly deserved point and ended a goal drought of more than seven hours.

After a traumatic four weeks for the Exiles it looked like Jimmy Dack’s side were heading for a fifth straight defeat after Rory Donnelly’s opener in first half stoppage time for Tranmere Rovers.

But Byrne’s piledriver on 83 minutes stopped the rot and renewed the belief that this side can still challenge for a place in the League Two play-offs.

Dack opted to ditch Edinburgh’s preferred 5-3-2 formation and switch to 4-4-2, making three changes in personnel from Saturday’s 2-0 defeat at AFC Wimbledon.

Defender Kevin Feely was serving a one-game ban following his red card at the weekend and Dack decided against recalling 16-year-old Regan Poole.

Instead the formation had a back to basics feel about it with a flat back four and four across the middle.

Robbie Willmott returned on the left of midfield for his first league start since picking up a serious foot injury in October.

Lee Minshull replaced Adam Chapman in the centre to form a solid partnership with Max Porter and Mark Byrne was shifted out to the right flank.

Up front loan signing Miles Storey earned a first start alongside Aaron O’Connor with Chris Zebroski dropping out of the squad altogether.

On a cold night at Rodney Parade both goalkeepers warmed their hands early on as Joe Day saved from Lee Molyneux at his near post and Owain Fon Williams denied Byrne after good work from O’Connor.

After a traumatic four weeks the hosts understandably looked a little fragile in the opening exchanges but slowly there were signs that the confidence was starting to return.

Roared on by a crowd low in numbers but overflowing with passion, Willmott, who moved further forward as Dack switched to 4-3-3 linked up promisingly with O’Connor and Storey.

And Ryan Jackson made several lightning quick bursts down the right flank, which worried the visiting defence.

Porter tried his luck from distance but his snatched effort was a good five yards wide of Welshman Fon Williams’ right hand post.

County’s momentum was then disrupted by a nasty looking injury to Minshull who was stretchered off after more than five minutes of treatment and replaced by Yan Klukowski.

Both sides tried their best to keep warm during the stoppage but it was the visitors who seemed to benefit most from the break in play.

First central defender Adam Dugdale was denied what looked a certain goal as his poked effort from six yards out was superbly blocked by Porter, who threw himself into a flying boot to keep the ball out.

But Micky Adams’ men were not to be denied and they took the lead in the seventh minute of time added on for Minshull’s injury.

A quick free-kick on the right released Jennison Myrie Williams and his cross was placed perfectly for Donnelly, on loan from Swansea City, to fire his side ahead and heap the pressure on Dack and his weary troops.

The home side came out fighting after the break and tried to produce a response with Porter, Klukowski and Storey all having shots blocked shortly after the restart.

Adams’ men went close to adding to their lead with Kayode Odejayi hotting a volley just off target from Dugdale’s knockdown.

But County stepped up the pressure with Byrne heading against the bar from close range.

That was a big let off with Fon Williams beaten but the former Wales under-21 stopper was in top form to keep out a vicious low drive from striker Aaron O’Connor moments later before punching away superbly under pressure from a host of bodies in the box.

The hosts were piling on the pressure with substitute Shaun Jeffers almost scoring with his first touch after replacing Aaron O’Connor but his effort was blocked by Ricky Holmes.

Klukowski's effort from the rebound then bobbled just wide of Fon Williams’ left hand post and the Tranmere defence breathed a big sigh of relief.

But finally, after more than seven hours without a goal and just as most inside Rodney Parade had given up hope, Byrne smashed home a stunning equaliser from 25 yards.

It was no more than County deserved for a fantastic backs-to-the-wall performance in the second half that showed the character of the squad once again.

County: Day; Jackson, Jones, Yakubu, Sandell; Byrne, Porter, Minshull (Klukowski, 35), Willmott; Storey (Howe, 88), O’Connor (Jeffers, 75)

Subs not used: Stephens, Chapman, Howe, Jeffers, Flynn, Poole

Tranmere: Fon Williams; Holmes (Ridehalgh, 80), Thompson, Dugdale, Taylor; Myrie Williams (Hume, 74), Power, Jennings, Molyneux (Laird, 74); Odejayi, Donnelly

Subs not used: Brezovan, Kirby, Koumas, Ridehalgh, Shuker

Booked: Jennings

Referee: Rob Lewis

Attendance: 2,327

Argus star man: Mark Byrne