A BRILLIANT fightback from Newport County kept their promotion aspirations on track against red-hot Hartlepool, even if they couldn’t quite secure a stunning victory.

The Exiles looked down and out after the surprise package in English football in 2015 took total command of the contest, the impressive Jonathan Franks tormenting Newport who toiled for 44 minutes and found themselves 2-0 down, only for super strikes either side of the interval from Darren Jones and Aaron O’Connor bringing them parity.

And the Exiles felt they might have won when they were denied a huge penalty shout, Ismail Yakubu seemingly felled in the box with time ticking on Hartlepool’s bid to cling to a point.

The Exiles can ill-afford any more injuries with an increasingly depleted squad, a position borne out with County fielding three youngsters on their bench, two of whom have barely featured in senior football.

However, they were at least able to welcome back their goalkeeper, Joe Day, forced off with injury at Accrington, though fellow muscle strain victim Ryan Jackson didn’t recover in time and will be aiming instead to make the trip to St James’ Park on Easter Monday.

County have been somewhat flexible in terms of their shape since Jimmy Dack’s appointment, but he does appear to have now been convinced of the merits of 3-5-2, certainly a shape the players seem familiar with.

However, they were coming up against opponents in sensational form, the visitors who made the long trip south with their celebrity fan Jeff Stelling in tow incredibly overturning a nine-point deficit adrift at the bottom of League Two to put themselves in with a great chance of producing the ultimate Great Escape.

Much has been made of Newport’s seeming inability to make a fast start at Rodney Parade in 2015 when they’ve generally found themselves on the back foot at home, but despite the visitors’ rude form, County were the more impressive side in the opening exchanges.

They had a better tempo to their passing and could’ve led inside 15 minutes, Aaron O’Connor’s effort just the wrong side of the post after fine work by makeshift wingback Yan Klukowski. Lee Minshull was close moments later, arriving on the spot to drill at goal, but he blazed over.

However, one would expect Minshull would’ve been content for that to be his only first half effort at goal, because from his second, on 16 minutes, he presented the visitors the lead.

It was a horror goal for the Exiles, Michael Duckworth’s deep cross evading Day and inexplicably tucked in via the post off the head of Minshull, who looked like he wanted the ground to swallow him up.

If that goal was against the run of play though, the second certainly wasn’t, Pools in control by the time they doubled their advantage on 37 minutes.

It might have already come twice from the boot of the superb Jonathan Franks, who narrowly missed the target from an acute angle and forced Day into a standard save, but Franks was instrumental to the second, hammering against the crossbar from an improbable distance.

Newport, however, didn’t heed the warning and couldn’t clear their lines, Aaron Tshibola crossing for Jordan Hugill to bundle over the line. Two uglier goals you couldn’t wish to see, but the scenes of jubilation on the Hartlepool bench told their own story of how much it meant.

The visitors needed to reach the interval on level pegging and didn’t manage it, the all-important third goal drilled home by Darren Jones who almost burst the net from the edge of the area. The defender who is “one of your own,” simply doesn’t seem to do bad goals.

It was just the tonic for Newport and they absolutely made it count, drawing level within three minutes of the re-start thanks to their fox in the box Aaron O’Connor, who slotted home brilliantly with his first sniff of a half chance.

Suddenly Rodney Parade and Hartlepool United were rocking, but the Exiles couldn’t capitalise as the game switched back to a more cagey kind of contest, the fear of losing tempering both sides’ desire to go chasing a winner at all costs.

Newport were certainly the more ambitious side and sent for another striker in Shaun Jeffers, but the visitors began sitting deeper and deeper and using so many of the dark arts of defending to protect their point you wondered if Ronnie Moore or Severus Snape was giving them instructions.

County thought they had a lifeline with ten minutes left when Scott Flinders appeared to bundle over Ismail Yakubu after saving his point-blank header, but not for the first time, County were denied by referee Kevin Johnson, a last minute stand-in after Lee Collins was taken ill.

County couldn't muster a winner, but the manner of the point gained should at least give them heart.

Newport: (3-5-2): Day, Jones, Yakubu, Sandell, Klukowski (Jeffers 63), Tutonda, Porter, Minshull, Byrne, Storey, O’Connor

Subs not used: Stephens, Poole, Flynn, Chapman, Collins, Jeffers, Parker.

Booked: Jeffers

Hartlepool: (3-5-2): Flinders, Mirfin, Harrison, Jones, Austin, Duckworth, Featherstone, Tshibola, Walker, Franks, Hugill

Subs not used: Maxted, Harewood, Nelson-Addy, Hawkins, Richards, Smith, Jones.

Booked: Tshibola, Harrison

Referee: Kevin Johnson (Weston-super-Mare)

Attendance: 3531

Argus star man: Darren Jones