NEWPORT County once again paid the price for a slow start at Rodney Parade as they were held by Cheltenham Town.

We might be in the middle of the Cheltenham Festival but County simply weren’t at the races in the first period and were highly fortunate to go in level after Miles Storey’s super header.

And while the Exiles were unquestionably the dominant force in a better second half, they simply couldn’t find the crucial second goal to end their slump at their home.

Boss Jimmy Dack rarely has the luxury of no new injury troubles and it was again the case, Robbie Willmott and Ismail Yakubu dropping out to be replaced by Aaron O’Connor – fit to partner Storey in attack – and Kevin Feely as the Exiles again had to rotate their ranks.

And it appeared to have an effect, because to say that the Exiles underwhelmed in the first period would be dramatic understatement, County producing one of their worst 45 minutes of the entire campaign when they found stringing two successive passes together a challenge.

This was a side drained of confidence and having a total inability to mask it, Cheltenham quicker, sharper and braver with their play as County turned over possession.

If they weren’t giving the ball away they were launching it long, but that’s a questionable tactic at best when you are aiming at two players in O’Connor and Storey who are both well under six foot.

The Exiles needed to be bold and to try and play more expansively – the team selection suggesting Dack knew that – but in the early stages they simply couldn’t get going, the hosts swarming all over County.

Joe Day had already saved from Danny Haynes and would do so again with the score at 1-0, but the goalkeeper could do nothing when County shot themselves in the foot.

They picked the thirteenth minute of the contest on Friday the 13th to concede their worst goal of the campaign, Kevin Feely and Day turning into the Chuckle Brothers as they did the ‘to you, to me’ routine, Feely’s weak backpass stranding Day as Wes Burns had the simplest task to put the visitors ahead.

You can only imagine how the sparse home crowd were feeling, but to their credit, the amber army stayed on side despite the Exiles seemingly having no idea on how to get back in the contest.

They were hesitant and clearly shy of confidence, but amazingly and totally against the run of play on 38 minutes, they were level.

And it was a fine goal as well, Ryan Jackson’s perfect cross headed home brilliantly by Miles Storey who looped the ball into the net over Trevor Carson. It was a superbly placed header.

It was more than County deserved but they weren’t complaining, O’Connor heading at Carson before Day was called into action at the other end, saving brilliantly twice and relying on Darren Jones as Cheltenham missed three great chances, Matt Richards denied twice.

The almost 3000 strong crowd had to be working to the presumption that the Exiles were unlikely to play as badly after the interval, but it was the Robins who began the second period as they did the first, on the front foot.

However, unlike the likes of Morecambe who won at Rodney Parade recently, the pressure was equally great for the relegation threatened visitors to get a result and you sensed the pressure was weighing on them as they too started making mistakes.

That allowed County their first period of sustained pressure, Feely heading over and Adam Chapman blasting wide as the Exiles began to look the more menacing.

They were imposing themselves more and more as the contest wore on, Chapman beginning to pull the strings in midfield as the Exiles looked to fashion the opening that could win them the contest.

Yan Klukowksi came close with a rasping effort from 25-yards that had Carson scrambling, though Day needed to intervene to save an effort from sub Matt Manset.

Lee Minshull headed wide as the Exiles kept coming, Carson doing well to repel a howitzer from Klukowski that swirled in the night sky, sub Mike Flynn also having a late chance, but he blazed over.

However, County couldn’t find that all important winner and their promotion aspirations now seem more and more precarious.

County: Day, Jackson, Tutonda (Sandell 49), Feely, Jones, Minshull, Chapman (Flynn 83), Byrne, Klukowski, O’Connor, Storey (Howe 76)

Subs not used: Stephens, Porter, Jeffers, Poole

Booked: None

Cheltenham: Carson, Mills, Haynes, Sparrow (Wynter 77), Burns, Braham-Barrett, Harrad (Manset 58), Brown, Packwood, Berry, M Richards

Subs not used: Gould, Vaughan, Taylor, Hanks, E Richards

Booked: Mills

Referee: Wayne Barrett (Coventry)

Argus star man: Miles Storey