The Exiles have suffered their first defeat in EFL League 2, after a 1-0 reverse at Exeter City.
County couldn’t find a breakthrough in a first-half which they largely controlled, Padraig Amond having a header cleared off the line late in the first-half.
But Exeter were much improved in the second-half, Lee Holmes getting the winner on 58 minutes.
Holmes was found on the edge-of-the-area by Reuben Reid, and ran five yards before curling a shot past a helpless Joe Day.
The result means that County suffer a first league defeat of the campaign, against an Exeter City side who remain top of the table.
Mike Flynn elected to make eight changes from the side that lost 2-0 to Forest Green Rovers on Tuesday in the Checkatrade Trophy. It was, however, just the two changes from last weekend’s win in the Rodney Parade ‘Homecoming’ against Chesterfield.
That saw a change in full-back as Dan Butler replaced David Pipe, with the other change coming in midfield as Reece Cole made way for Sean Rigg.
It appeared that the Exiles were setting up in a 3-5-2 system, with goal scorers from last week, Padraig Amond and Frank Nouble, starting up-front.
Exeter manager Paul Tisdale decided to make six changes to his side that also lost in mid-week, with the Grecians going down 3-1 at home against Yeovil Town.
However, the starting eleven represented an unchanged side from the league win over Cheltenham Town last weekend, as the Grecians matched County in a 3-5-2 formation.
And the Exiles almost created the opening chance of the game within 90 seconds of kick-off.
After Mickey Demetriou had displaced Lee Holmes in the centre, Joss Labadie embarked on a marauding run down the right-hand side. His cross was drilled across the area towards Amond and Sean Rigg, but neither could connect as Troy Brown cleared.
Amond had the next County chance after a bright start, although his shot from Rigg’s flick-on went wide in the 5th minute.
Exeter fans had to wait until the 7th minute for their side to create a decent opportunity. Holmes, starting on the left-hand side, found space to cross, although Joe Day read it superbly to collect.
Dolan fired a free-kick at the wall on 10 minutes, as County looked to score from their livelier start.
But the Exiles couldn’t force another chance until the 18th minute, although captain Joss Labadie’s effort from all of 45 yards was never in danger of concerning home goalkeeper Christy Pym.
On the counter attack, Exeter forced a chance moments later, but Day comfortably collected Jordan Tillson’s effort.
Amond should have given the Exiles a deserved lead on 20 minutes, although fired straight at Pym when found from a Rigg delivery right on the penalty spot.
Another chance for Amond came on 29 minutes, although the Irishman fired over the bar after Nouble had expertly skipped past Lloyd James and cut the ball back.
It appeared like all the County chances were falling the way of Amond, who came close seconds later with a flick-on from a Rigg delivery.
County then had a goal disallowed. Amond had the ball in the back of the net on 32 minutes after heading in a Demetriou long-throw, but the referee had already blown his whistle and penalised Nouble for a push on the goalkeeper.
The game’s first yellow card came in the 34rd minute, as County’s Sean Rigg was adjudged to have fouled Tillson on the edge of the Exeter area.
All the play was seemingly being dictated by the County midfield-trio as the game approached the 35-minute mark, the home side being frustrated with the few chances they could muster, as a resolute Exiles display were stopping them getting any foothold in the game.
County’s Ben White had to be alert to prevent Reuben Reid getting in on goal on 40 minutes, before doing even better within 15 seconds of his clearance.
Holmes whipped in an inviting delivery that Day could only parry into the path of Jake Taylor, who looked destined to score, only for White to head off the goal-line.
Exeter had to make their own goal-line clearance within a minute of that chance, as Troy Brown cleared Amond’s headed effort.
Demetriou was the second County player to be booked on 42 minutes after fouling James, as Taylor fired wide for Exeter as one additional minute was indicated at the end of the first-half.
But no further chances could be created by either side who went in level at half-time.
On the balance of the game, County could feel aggrieved not to be in-front. The midfield trio were controlling the pace and tempo of the game, with the defence limiting the home side to just the one clear cut chance.
Neither side made a change at half-time, the home side starting the better as James tested Day within the opening 60 seconds.
County’s first chance of the second-half came on 52 minutes, but O’Brien couldn’t generate the power required to test Pym in the home-goal.
Willmott fired over from a Nouble cut-back just a minute later, as both sides seemed to be starting well.
And Exeter would make the most of their bright start, as Lee Holmes gave them the lead on 58 minutes. In fairness, there may have been a foul in the build-up as Demetriou fell under the challenge of Reid.
But no foul was given as Reid played in Holmes on the edge-of-the-area, who ran five yards before curling a shot just inside the post.
A header from Taylor almost saw them double the lead just a minute later, with Reid clipping the post with a shot on 64 minutes.
Demetriou had to time a challenge well to prevent Liam McAlinden from doubling the Grecian advantage, as the home side were really starting to turn the screw in the second half.
But, just like so often last season, the Exiles were intent on getting themselves back into the game.
Nouble fired a 30-yard effort that bounced off the post, before Rigg failed to convert the rebound.
On the counter, Tillson should probably have scored for the home side, but his effort on 73 minutes sailed well over the crossbar.
And the Grecians came agonisingly close to a second just a minute later. First Reid had a shot saved by Day, before his cross found Holmes unmarked in the area, only for White to again somehow clear off the line.
Reece Cole and Tom Owen-Evans were the first substitutes thrown on by Michael Flynn on 75 minutes. That also saw a change to the Exiles system, as Mark O’Brien made way for Reece Cole – Tom Owen-Evans replacing Matty Dolan in the other change.
Nouble had a shot blocked wide on 82 minutes, as County continued to press for an equaliser.
Exeter made a double attacking substitution, strike partners Reid and McAlinden being replaced by Jayden Stockley and Hiram Boateng.
That meant both were making their debuts after joining on Deadline Day, Stockley making his second debut after having a loan spell with the Grecians in 2016.
Ben Tozer came on for the final Exiles substitution, as three additional minutes were indicated.
Owen-Evans fired wide at the end of the first minute, Tozer booked moments later.
A resolute Exeter defence held out from that point to continue their streak of 1-0 league wins at home.
County: Day, Butler, O’Brien (Cole 75’), Demetriou, White, Willmott (Tozer 86’), Dolan (Owen-Evans 75’), Labadie (C), Amond, Nouble
Subs not used: Bittner, Pipe, Bennett, Jahraldo
Exeter: Pym, Sweeney, Brown, Moore-Taylor (C), Woodman, Taylor, James, Tillson, Holmes, Reid (Boateng 83’), McAlinden (Stockley 83’)
Subs not used: Hamon, Archibald-Henville, Simpson, Byrne, Sparkes
Referee: John Brooks
Attendance: 4,193 (343 away)
Next up for County: Wycombe Wanderers (home) 9th September