ON THE weekend that they paid tribute to the late Ron Jones and lost club historian Andrew Taylor, it was fitting that Newport County AFC showed the fight and the staying power to suggest that this could be a campaign to remember.

For the third time in the first 10 games of the season, the League Two leaders came to Rodney Parade and went home without the three points they came for.

Unlike Plymouth Argyle and Crewe Alexandra, Exeter City did take a point away from Newport but they did so only with the help of some questionable officiating and thanks to the Exiles’ poor finishing.

That was certainly how County manager Michael Flynn saw it.

Exeter looked sharp in the opening exchanges and took a deserved lead in the 15th minute but Flynn’s men were rightly aggrieved that referee Neil Hair allowed the visitors to retake a corner after stopping play for a foul on Joss Labadie.

Ryan Haynes then let Lee Martin wriggle free to bundle the ball into an empty net and the hosts faced an uphill task.

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But they rose to the challenge, dominating the remainder of the first half with Jamille Matt and Corey Whitely forcing Grecians goalkeeper Lewis Ward into two fine saves.

And the introduction of Tristan Abrahams for the ineffective Padraig Amond saw them step it up a gear again after the break.

Matt really should have given a flowing move involving Whitely and Abrahams the finish it deserved but he fired just wide.

And, after Abrahams levelled from the spot following a foul on the excellent Josh Sheehan on 64 minutes, there were chances for Matt, Robbie Willmott and Joss Labadie to force the winner.

Exeter could have nicked all three points when Exiles stopper Tom King almost gifted substitute Jayden Richardson a winner in stoppage time, but that would have been a real injustice.

And visiting manager Matt Taylor, who had a brief spell as a player at Rodney Parade, admitted that his old club deserve to be taken seriously this season.

“Full credit to Newport,” said Taylor. “There’s a reason why they haven’t been beaten here since February.

“Rodney Parade is a very tough place to come and I think a lot of sides will lose here this season.

“They’re a very good side and definite contenders.”

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Taylor’s men remain the only unbeaten side in the division and he was pleased with the way his players dealt with what he saw as a bombardment from the hosts.

“Newport are going to put you under a lot of pressure whenever you play them,” he added.

“It was a proper game of football with two good teams going at it. Nobody wanted to take a backwards step and probably a draw is a fair result.

“I’m pleased with a point but disappointed that we couldn’t play our game.

“We got caught in a battle, which is obviously what it’s going to be at times in this league, and we just weren’t able to implement our football on the game.

“We had no control whatsoever after the first 15 minutes.

“The following 70 minutes was not carnage, but it was direct play.

“We stood up to it, which I was pleased about, and it has taken a slip and then a penalty on top of it, which was a bit unfortunate.

“But it felt like the ball was bouncing in and around our box and our centre halves an awful lot.

“That’s how some teams play in this league and we will be better for this experience, especially some of the younger boys.”

County will question that interpretation and, in the end, they were frustrated not to win but the chances they created and the spirit they showed bodes well for the battles ahead.

Ron and Andrew would have been proud of their side.

County: King, Howkins, Bennett, O’Brien, Willmott, Sheehan, Labadie, Haynes, Whitely (Poleon, 79), Amond (Abrahams, 46), Matt (Dolan, 75)

Subs not used: Townsend, McNamara, Nurse, Maloney

Booked: Sheehan

Referee: Neil Hair

Attendance: 4,762 (736 Exeter)