Michael Flynn insists his side will “keep fighting” after going down 6-1 to Plymouth Argyle.
Aaron Williams scored in added time as goals from Matty Kennedy (2), Jake Jervis (2), Graham Carey and Ryan Taylor compounded County to defeat as another game goes by in the fight for survival.
That leaves County one point away from safety with three games to play after Hartlepool also lost.
And Flynn believes the Exiles still have a great chance of survival.
He said: “We will keep on fighting because it’s still only one point and all we have to do is better Hartlepool’s results.
“Keep believing because this was the day I was most worried about on paper – it’s done now and we are no worse off.”
“Let’s not dress it up... it was a poor performance but it’s a one off and we will brush ourselves down and get ready for Saturday. We haven’t looked like conceding six over three matches let alone in one game.
“The boys have had a lot of knocks this season and they’ve bounced back – they’re a great group, good character and they’ve done everything for me since I came in. Unfortunately, today was one step too far but we’ll go again Saturday.”
Flynn made two changes to the side that beat Yeovil Town on Good Friday. Mark O’Brien, substituted in that game through illness missed out, with Darren Jones taking his place. Sean Rigg also came in replacing Ryan Bird.
Derek Adams made one change to his side that drew 1-1 at Portsmouth last time out. Sonny Bradley, named last week in the EFL team of the year missed out through injury and was replaced by Jakub Sokolik.
A huge game at Home Park as Plymouth looked for their first promotion since 2004. A point would do it for them in front of a sell-out crowd but you could see the players were certainly not playing for a point as they wanted to seal promotion in style.
Some nice passing from the home side in the opening 60 seconds allowed Ryan Taylor to find space in the area, with Darren Jones blocking his attempt.
Mark Randall had the first County attempt in the 4th minute, but his audacious effort from about 24 yards sailed well over Luke McCormick’s crossbar.
A dangerous delivery from Matty Kennedy then caused havoc in the area, with Scot Bennett’s clearing header only going as far as Antoni Sarcevic, but his effort was wastily smashed over.
Sean Rigg, partnering Alex Samuel up-front for the Exiles was nearly found by a splitting pass from Tom Owen-Evans but his touch went behind him and Plymouth cleared confidently. Owen-Evans then nearly found space in the area himself shortly after but again the home side defended resiliently.
Rigg then nearly got the opener after running confidently through the heart of the Plymouth defence but McCormick only needed to make an easy save on the angle.
The home crowd seemed to be increasingly quieter the longer the game went on, and the more they gave the ball to one of the County midfield three.
In the first quarter, Samuel seemed to be running after everything and was by far the best player on the field. And if it wasn’t for an expertly timed challenge from Graham Carey then the Swansea loanee could have had a clear run at goal.
Dan Butler was doing a fantastic job preventing Jake Jervis from running at the County defence, but a lapse from Butler allowed the 11-goal striker to eat up the right flank right on 20 minutes. Fortunately for County, Mickey Demetriou had read the situation and made a solid challenge when Jervis had cut inside.
At this point, news had started to circulate that Luton had fallen behind at Mansfield meaning as it stood the Pilgrims would be up regardless of the result and they almost delivered some more good news to their fans straight after. After Oscar Threlkeld had found space on the right, Kennedy couldn’t quite get a good connection and the ball fizzled out for a goal-kick.
It looked as if the home side were starting to turn the screw as County struggled to create anything of note as the game approached the half-hour, with David Fox sending a warning shot to County with a ferocious 20-yard drive that only just drifted wide of Joe Day’s post.
The warning signs were there for County and they were punished on 40 minutes when Kennedy rose highest from a Sawyer delivery to head past a helpless Joe Day from 10 yards for his 4th of the season. That had suddenly raised the crowd who realised promotion was in reach.
And they doubled their advantage just two minutes later. A long ball from Yann Songo’o seemed to be fizzling back to Joe Day but Jake Jervis showed great persistence and forced Demetriou to head back towards goal. But the header didn’t have enough on it and Day could do nothing but watch Jervis take the ball round him and double the Pilgrims advantage – his 12th of the season.
The side would have been happy to see the indication of one additional minute for the first half, as they could take a break to recover from the double sucker punch just before half-time.
A relatively low-key first 40 minutes especially for the occasion and what was looking like a positive display from County had suddenly taken a catastrophic turn as the side would have everything to do in the second half. Samuel, as lively as ever, seemed to be the brightest spark for the side.
Flynn decided a change was necessary at half-time as Jazzi Barnum-Bobb came on for David Pipe. And it was from his cross that Samuel almost connected with but Jakub Sokolik did enough to put him off.
The bright start from County continued in the 49th minute when Tom Owen-Evans found himself clear on the angle but McCormick, as confident as ever, made a smart save. Randall fired the rebound into the side netting.
But that bright spark suddenly vanished as Graham Carey made it three. The man that stopped County getting that dream trip to Anfield was at it again, a smart shot into the bottom corner after a menacing 20-yard run from the right for his 15th of the season.
Matty Kennedy nearly made it four but his 30-yard drive went wide. The confidence was oozing from the Pilgrims as it started to feel like a damage limitation job.
But that plan didn’t work either as Ryan Taylor made it four with a deft flick in the area on 57 minutes. Oscar Threlkeld had been delivering menacing crosses all day and Taylor finally took advantage of one of them to extend the Pilgrims lead.
Joe Day then had to make a superb save to prevent a fifth as Kennedy looked to extend their advantage, before Ryan Taylor wasted a glorious chance for the home side.
County then wasted a glorious chance to get a consolation but Alex Samuel completely misfired his attempt. Scot Bennett had burst into the area and could have shot himself but squared unselfishly but Samuel failed to convert.
Then after Samuel had missed again, this time a much harder chance, Plymouth piled even more misery on the Exiles as they got their fifth on 65 minutes. From that second Samuel opportunity, they had a four on two scenario and Kennedy got his second with a curling 20-yard attempt.
Substitute Aaron Williams then nearly got one back with a shot from five yards before Plymouth extended their lead again. And it was another counter-attack that tore County apart and when Ryan Taylor played Jake Jervis in on-goal, the result was in no doubt as he grabbed his second of the afternoon.
As the game approached the final ten minutes, Ryan Taylor (twice) and Graham Carey both had chances to increase their advantage but Joe Day made smart saves to deny all three opportunities.
As the added time went up, County finally got something for their efforts. Aaron Williams found space in the box after being played in by Sean Rigg and curled home a goal that could prove vital for County’s goal difference.
And Flynn said he was delighted for Williams to get his first goal since February.
He said: “I thought he took his goal well… we created a couple of good chances. Tom missed a tap-in, Aaron could have had another and Alex missed two so we created enough chances today.”
The defeat for County was their first since losing at Portsmouth, who were also promoted. And Flynn could have no complaints about the sides that were promoted.
He said: “We came up against a very good Plymouth team today and congratulations to them on their promotion. These teams are top of the table for a reason and they showed that today.
“They’ve got some good quality players … they took their chances and we didn’t take ours.
“We’re not any further behind which is important and we have to dust ourselves down and go again Saturday. I’m glad they went up today because we won’t have to play them when we stay up.”
County will look to respond to defeat when they take on Accrington Stanley, unbeaten in 15, next week.
Scot Bennett and David Pipe both came off with injuries against Plymouth but should be back to face Stanley.
On Bennett: “It’s too early to know yet… he’s got a sore hamstring but I’ll speak to the medical team and hopefully he will be fine.”
On Pipe: “Pipey hip flexor... he’s been carrying it a while but I’m confident it’ll settle down. It’s unfortunate because he’s experienced, he’s the captain… and we need those kinds of players out there on the big occasions.”
One player definitely to be back for Saturday is Joss Labadie, who has now served his suspension.
And Flynn believes Mark O’Brien could also return to the side.
He added: “He had signs of concussion which ruled him out for the week. He should be back for Saturday which is a big boost – he’s a brilliant player. Labadie is back too and fingers crossed on the other two.”
County: Day, Pipe (C) (Barnum-Bobb 45), Bennett (Nelson 75), Demetriou, Jones, Butler, Owen-Evans, Randall (Williams 60), Rose, Samuel, Rigg
Subs not used: Bittner, Myrie-Williams, Gordon, Bird
Plymouth: McCormick (C), Threlkeld (Miller 78), Songo’o, Sokolic, Sawyer, Fox (Smith 76), Sarcevic, Carey (Tanner 83), Jervis, Kennedy, Taylor
Subs not used: Bulvitis, Donaldson, Dorel, Garita
Attendance: 13,971 (337 away)
Referee: Graham Horwood
Support the boys as they face another tough
test at home to Accrington Stanley FC
GET YOUR TICKETS NOW!