Mark Harris scored his first goal for Newport County AFC when netting with seven minutes remaining to ensure the Exiles took a point from their trip to St James Park in a 1-1 draw with Exeter City.
After an encouraging start, it was Exeter who struck first as they capitalised on County’s only error of the contest after 21 minutes.
Jayden Stockley was able to ghost in ahead of the County defence and glance home a header from Jake Taylor’s free-kick, as the Grecians were able to take a lead with them into half-time.
In the second-half, the home side had several opportunities to put the result beyond question but Stockley and Dean Moxey both wasted good chances, whilst substitute Nicky Law hit the crossbar.
The Grecians were always left vulnerable with a slender lead and County made them pay with seven minutes remaining when Harris had the desired effect following his introduction.
Cardiff City’s loanee had a little fortune when finding the net for the first time in County colours, but equally deserved it following a marauding run and after he got the better of a tackle with Troy Brown, stabbed home emphatically to spark delirium in the away end.
That means after League Two matchday three, the Exiles have four points and reside in 18th position, ahead of welcoming Notts County to Rodney Parade on Tuesday night.
Mike Flynn elected to make two changes to the side that cruised to a comprehensive victory at Cambridge United in midweek in the Carabao Cup First Round.
That saw Joe Day return to his familiar position between the sticks after Nick Townsend made his debut and impressed on Tuesday, with Scot Bennett, Mickey Demetriou and Fraser Franks again providing the defensive cover in-front of their goalkeeper.
David Pipe came back into the side after missing out in midweek as a precaution, joining Dan Butler in offering attacking intent from the wing back positions.
Having impressed on his debut, Tyreeq Bakinson continued in the holding midfield position alongside Matty Dolan, with Josh Sheehan playing a little further forward when composing a forward line including Padraig Amond and Jamille Matt.
Exeter City manager Matt Taylor made three changes to the Grecians side after he kept his unbeaten start to life in management alive with a victory on penalties against Championship outfit Ipswich Town.
That included a change in each area of the field as Dean Moxey came into the defence when replacing Craig Woodman, whilst Lee Holmes and Jonathan Forte also returned in place of Lee Martin and Matt Jay respectively.
In what is becoming a regular occurrence in County matches in the opening month of the 2018/19 campaign, both teams started with the same sort of speed as the trains whizzing past the stadium during the contest.
Jamille Matt – fresh from opening his County account with a header in midweek - this time turned to his feet and Christy Pym had to react quickly to prevent Matt’s half volley creeping into his near post from 25 yards.
That came with five minutes gone and from the resulting corner, the Exiles came even closer to breaking the deadlock.
Matty Dolan’s delivery originally looked a little too deep, but Fraser Franks used all his power to head back into the danger area, Matt attempting an overhead kick that home captain Jake Taylor had to clear off the goal line.
From there, Exeter were able to put together a sustained period of pressure but were ultimately restricted to a wayward Jonathan Forte attempt after another commanding start by the County defensive line.
The Exiles were still making good use of Dolan’s corner-kicks and Mickey Demetriou was unlucky to see a looping header nestle on the roof of the goal.
Jayden Stockley blazed over shortly after as Exeter tried to nullify County’s good start to proceedings at St James Park, although the Grecian striker almost presented County with a glorious opportunity as his misplaced slide tackle pass almost set Amond free through the centre.
But Stockley was the recipient of everything good about the Exeter attack and was offering the greatest impetus in the game even if there was that one sloppy pass, so it was no surprise when the Grecians striker headed home the opener on 21 minutes.
The aforementioned striker won a free-kick 25 yards out when Tyreeq Bakinson went in a little high during an aerial duel, and when Jake Taylor swung it in, Stockley ghosted in past the two County markers and glanced a header into Joe Day’s far corner.
After some encouraging build-up on the left-hand side, Josh Sheehan blazed over in the area as County looked for an immediate response, but were left frustrated by a resolute Exeter defence.
And from that point forth, both defences restricted the two sides to little other than half chances as not even the indication of two minutes additional time could inspire a further opening of note.
It was somewhat unfortunate for the Exiles to head back into the dressing rooms with a goal deficit, the side certainly starting proceedings well but ultimately ruing one lapse in concentration when Stockley struck.
From a County perspective, Bakinson was particularly impressing again after an inspired display in midweek, his clever flicks splitting the Exeter defence apart on occasion and he looked comfortable alongside Dolan and Sheehan in midfield.
Immediately following the restart, both sides again started with intent and Jordan Tillson and Dolan both tried the audacious when sending shots over the crossbar.
Pierce Sweeney’s cross into the danger area almost presented the Grecians with an opportunity, but after County could only half-clear, Demetriou raced out and prevented Forte from having a simple tap-in.
Those deliveries from Sweeney were certainly causing confusion in the County area and on the hour, Lee Holmes forced Day into a fingertip save with a powerful header towards the far corner.
The Exiles were also taking good advantage of the deliveries substitute Keanu Marsh-Brown could muster, and on 63 minutes his cross fizzed across the area but no County shirt could quite get the touch and Troy Brown cleared.
As the game appeared to be dying down to a steadier pace, the Grecians almost put the result beyond doubt with fourteen minutes remaining.
Day couldn’t have known too much about it when Stockley powered a header onto his face from close range, while on the follow up following a clearance, substitute Nicky Law hit the crossbar.
Dean Moxey was next to try his luck and when Day was caught in two minds whether to block the shot or the cutback, the left-back hit Day and then the post, before Day could punch clear.
Their inability to fully kill off the game was always going to cause some nerves amongst the St James Park faithful and they were left to rue those missed opportunities when County equalised with seven minutes remaining.
It came with an element of fortune as substitute Mark Harris should really have been stopped by Brown in the area, but the ball fell kindly for the Cardiff City loanee and he stabbed past Pym with the poise that represents why Neil Warnock rates him so highly.
That goal was the final opportunity of note as the Exiles became the first team to take anything off Exeter City in League Two this season.
Newport County AFC (3-4-1-2): Day, Pipe (Marsh-Brown 45’), Franks, Demetriou (C), Bennett, Butler, Dolan, Bakinson, Sheehan (Harris 72’), Amond, Matt (Semenyo 59’)
Subs not used: Townsend, Forbes, O’Brien, Cooper
Exeter City (4-4-2): Pym, Sweeney, Martin, Brown, Moxey, Taylor (C), Boateng (Law 74’), Tillson, Holmes, Stockley, Forte (Abrahams 66’)
Subs not used: Hamon, Woodman, Martin, Jay, Oates
Referee: Christopher Sarginson
Attendance: 4,239 (332 AWAY)
Next up for County: Notts County (21st August 2018) HOME