IT’S not over yet but Newport County AFC have left themselves with a mountain to climb if they are to make the League Two play-offs.

Goals for Southend United either side of half-time at Roots Hall condemned County to a third straight defeat and a fourth game without a win at just the wrong time as they slipped to ninth in the table, three points off seventh.

Manager Jimmy Dack and his players have been consistent in recent weeks in their message that they need three more wins to clinch a top-seven spot.

With only three games now remaining they have no margin for error.

And even if the likes of Stevenage and Plymouth Argyle, who currently occupy sixth and seventh respectively, fall to pieces it will still be tough going for Dack’s men.

What is certain is that Saturday’s home clash with Dagenham & Redbridge is a must-win game for the Exiles.

And they will probably have to take maximum points at York City and at home to Oxford United on the final day as well if they are to extend their season beyond May 2.

The team will have passed the signs for Wembley on the long journey to Essex and their first half performance showed that they still believe they could be playing under the famous arch again next month.

Dack picked an attacking side with Miles Storey and Shaun Jeffers both returning to the starting XI along with defender Ismail Yakubu, back from a one-game ban, and Max Porter.

They started in a 4-4-2 formation with Storey on the right and Mark Byrne on the left but it was pretty fluid with Storey frequently joining Jeffers and Aaron O’Connor up front.

Andy Sandell had the visitors’ first shot after only five minutes and it was a real tester for Dan Bentley in the Shrimpers’ goal.

Jeffers stabbed a Ryan Jackson cross just wide and the striker was then released by a clever through ball from Adam Chapman but his cross just evaded O’Connor and Byrne in the middle.

Both Jackson and Byrne also worried Bentley with shots from distance as County proved they hadn’t come just for a point.

But Southend are still dreaming of automatic promotion to League One and have made Roots Hall a real fortress over recent months.

Phil Brown’s boys have lost only once at home in 2015 and Bentley set a new club record for clean sheets during the match.

He hasn’t conceded a league goal at Roots Hall since October so this was always an uphill task for Dack’s men.

And as the match progressed the hosts got on top and peppered Day’s goal with former County loan striker Joe Pigott a real handful for Darren Jones and Yakubu.

Right-back John White hit the angle of post and bar early on, midfielder Gary Deegan went close and Day had to be at his best to keep out a Will Atkinson volley.

Pigott volleyed over at full stretch from a Stephen McLaughlin cross and Jake Cassidy really should have scored but he diverted McLaughlin’s acrobatic effort just over Day’s bar.

The goal was coming and it finally arrived in first half stoppage time as defender Cian Bolger got between Jones and Yakubu and gave Day no chance with a bullet header from Atkinson’s corner.

And it was easy to fear the worst for County as McLaughlin doubled the hosts’ lead just five minutes after the restart.

He latched on to Deegan’s ball to finish off a lovely move from the Shrimpers and, with their tails up, it looked as if the home side were about to run riot.

Even more so when first Porter and then Yakubu were forced off due to injury.

They were replaced by David Tutonda and Kevin Feely, while Chris Zebroski also came on for Jeffers as Dack looked for some inspiration.

And his side responded, showing just the kind of spirit they are going to need over the next two weeks.

Tutonda hit the bar and O’Connor headed against the post when he really should have buried the chance from close range.

They couldn’t find a way back into the game and the battle was lost but the war is not over yet.

Southend: Bentley, White (Binnom-Williams, 79), Coker, Timlin, Atkinson (Leonard, 73), Bolger, Deegan, Cassidy, McLaughlin (Worrall, 73), Barrett, Pigott

Subs not used: Smith, Corr, Hurst, Payne

County: Day, Jackson, Jones, Yakubu (Feely, 61), Sandell, Porter (Tutonda, 55), Chapman, Byrne, Storey, Jeffers (Zebroski, 58), O’Connor

Subs not used: Stephens, Feely, Patten, Parker, Poole

Referee: Rob Lewis

Attendance: 5,480 (133 County)

Argus star man: Darren Jones