Robbie Willmott’s first goal of the season saw Newport County AFC start 2018 with a victory after a 2-1 win at home to Exeter City.
Padraig Amond gave County a half-time lead in a first-half of very few clear-cut opportunities, guiding a Willmott delivery expertly into the far corner with a looping header.
But the away side found their equaliser just eight minutes after the restart, sole striker Jayden Stockley replicating Amond’s effort with a headed attempt of his own from a similar position after Jake Taylor's cross.
Both sides continued to press for the extra goal with some decent opportunities and it was County to get another through Willmott’s first goal for the club since 8th October 2014 having re-joined in the summer.
Amond and Dan Butler combined superbly out-wide, before playing the ball with the right pace to allow Willmott to unleash an unstoppable effort into the bottom right corner.
The win keeps County in 11th position in the League 2 table, gaining a point on the play-off positions to trail the top-seven by just the three points.
Mike Flynn elected to make just the one change to the side that drew 1-1 at Cheltenham Town on Saturday.
That saw captain Joss Labadie return from his one-match suspension into the midfield of a 4-4-2 formation, as Tom Owen-Evans made way after starting his first league game for two months against the Robins two days ago.
Exeter City manager Paul Tisdale kept to his promise of rotating his squad over the festive period by making five changes to his side that beat Barnet 2-1 with a 94th minute winner on Saturday.
Three of those changes came in the Grecians defence, as Hiram Boateng and Kane Wilson dropped to the bench while Jordan Moore-Taylor missed out completely.
Pierce Sweeney, Troy Archibald-Henville and Craig Woodman came in, with the Grecians changes completed by Ryan Harley and Lloyd James also returning to the midfield.
All those changes saw the away side change to a 4-5-1 formation at Rodney Parade, as club record signing Jayden Stockley started as the sole striker.
But despite all the Grecian changes, it was County’s solitary alteration in Labadie who almost made the perfect return to the Exiles side within the opening two minutes.
Matty Dolan’s inviting corner delivery to the front-post was flicked on well by the midfielder six yards out, only to see it bounce off the post and away from any of the County players following up the attempt.
It wouldn’t take the Exiles too much longer to take advantage of a better start at Rodney Parade, however, as Padraig Amond scored for the second successive match just four minutes later.
A long clearance found Nouble on the right-hand side, before setting up Robbie Willmott to cross. The delivery was inch perfect for Amond just outside the six-yard area, who looped a header over away goalkeeper Christy Pym and into the far corner for his 8th league goal of the campaign.
It was all County in the opening exchanges, Ben White and Robbie Willmott particularly impressing, as it was clear that the Exiles had adapted better to the blustery conditions in South Wales.
Exeter’s only resistance in the opening 15 minutes came in the way of a 25-yard free-kick from Ryan Harley. But Joe Day read the delivery perfectly to collect amidst a host of advancing Exeter attackers.
Amond almost doubled his and County’s advantage with 27 minutes on the clock, although Danny Seaborne did just about enough to head the attempt clear of the near post.
But despite the indication of one additional minute of added time at the end of the first-half, no further chances could be created from either side as County took a slender advantage back with them to the dressing rooms.
You would have to say that the first-half was much better from a County perspective, with the Exiles looking the more menacing team throughout and controlling the game, although failed to create any further opportunities after the early opener.
Joe Day was making easy pickings of any aerial threat from Exeter, nullifying the threat of Stockley with a commanding performance.
The blustery conditions were clearly affecting the amount of chances being created in the opening 45 minutes, causing havoc to both sides throughout and especially the goalkeepers.
But within 90 seconds of the restart, the away side should have been level.
Stockley did really well to stop the ball rolling out for a goal-kick before teeing up Lloyd James four yards out with the goal at his mercy, only for Dan Butler to recover well and block the somewhat tame effort on the goal-line with Day beaten.
But just like County in the first-half, the away side were rewarded for a fast start to a half at Rodney Parade, grabbing an equaliser in the 53rd minute.
Captain Jake Taylor did well to skip past Butler on the left-side, before firing another inviting delivery into the area. Stockley and Jordan Tillson both jumped for it, with the former getting his head to the ball inside the box to give Day no chance with a powerful connection.
The Exiles could have responded instantly, however, as Willmott was put clean through after Harley slipped in the centre-circle. But Pym timed a challenge on the midfielder to perfection, getting a strong palm on the ball as Sweeney cleared.
Exeter could have found a second goal before the hour mark as-well, although Lloyd James wasted his free header after being found unmarked by Harley in the six-yard area.
The game was turning into a real end-to-end affair at Rodney Parade, both sides looking likely to score, and County were the side to get it with 25 minutes remaining.
Amond and Butler skilfully combined out-wide, before the left-back played a perfectly weighted ball into Willmott’s path. That allowed him to take a touch before firing an unstoppable strike from 25 yards into the bottom-right corner.
That was Willmott’s first competitive goal for the Exiles since re-joining the side over the summer, and the Exiles were unlucky to not get a third shortly after as Amond saw his effort saved by Pym.
Day also had to make saves before the clock ticked past the 70-minute mark, Moxey denied at close-range as-well as Butler deflecting a Taylor shot wide of the near post.
Grecian substitute Lee Holmes also tested Day into a reaction save on 77 minutes, with Taylor again denied shortly after from a finger-tip save by the goalkeeper.
A long injury stoppage just before the additional extras meant that eight minutes were indicated at the end of the match.
And in the sixth of the added extras, Taylor was denied again by a stunning save from Day. It looked like the away captain may finally breach the goalkeeper late-on, only for Day to jump back across goal to keep out the attempt.
But no further chances could be created from that point on against a stubborn County defence, ensuring the Exiles started 2018 with a first home victory over Exeter City since 2nd September 1986.
County: Day, Pipe, Bennett, Demetriou, White, Butler, Labadie (C), Dolan (Owen-Evans 82’), Willmott, Nouble (McCoulsky 90+3), Amond
Subs not used: Bittner, Reynolds, Tozer, Foulston, Touray
Exeter City: Pym, Sweeney, Seaborne (Reid 82’), Archibald-Henville, Woodman, Taylor, Harley, Tillson, James (Holmes 65’), Moxey, Stockley (McAlinden 89’)
Subs not used: Hamon, Wilson, Edwards, Boateng
Referee: Robert Lewis
Attendance: 3,380 (499 AWAY)
Next up for County: Leeds United (Emirates FA Cup) Home - 7th January