Kevin Ellison came off the bench to fire in a last-gasp winner as Newport County AFC returned to league action with victory over 10-man Port Vale.
The international break ensured the Exiles got a well-deserved rest and they looked refreshed as they created chance after chance at Rodney Parade.
But it looked set to be a frustrating afternoon as the Exiles couldn’t find the all-important breakthrough even after Leon Legge was sent off.
That was before Ellison, who had 12 goal contributions in 11 games against the Exiles prior to his arrival, was in the right place at the right time to poke in his first County goal and move the hosts three points clear at the top of the table, with a game in hand.
The hosts looked confident from the first whistle as they stroked the ball around the pitch. A foul on Tristan Abrahams gave Scott Twine the chance to add to his impressive selection of goals – with his strike against Cambridge United winning Sky Bet League Two Goal of the Month for October – but visiting goalkeeper Scott Brown was equal to his free kick.
Brandon Cooper scored the winner at Rodney Parade last time out but he was denied the opener this time with another good save from Brown.
After soaking up a lot of pressure in the early exchanges Port Vale grew into the game and forced Nick Townsend into two stunning saves. A close-range volley from David Worrall was destined to hit the back of the net but Townsend’s reflexes somehow kept it out and the goalkeeper was then at full stretch to parry Tom Conlon’s curler on the edge of the box.
Nathan Smith glanced a header wide and Mark Cullen fired straight at Townsend as Vale continued to pile forward but the Exiles held firm and took back control towards the end of the half.
Jamie Proctor misjudged the flight of a Ryan Haynes cross when well placed before Liam Shephard took centre stage.
The wing back has one goal in 15 appearances this season but he could have claimed a hat-trick before the break. Jamie Devitt played him into space twice, Brown tipped over his first shot before deflecting his second onto the post.
As the clock ticked down to half time, the Welshman found himself running through on goal again but slotted the ball past the wrong side of the post shortly after Legge had cleared Mickey Demetriou’s fierce shot off the line.
Cooper and Abrahams both had sight of goal after the restart but neither could test Brown in the Vale goal. County were asking all of the questions but couldn’t get the final ball right so October’s Sky Bet League Two Manger of the Month Michael Flynn introduced Padraig Amond and Joss Labadie to try and solve that with 25 minutes remaining.
Within minutes Labadie was brought down by Legge, who was given a second yellow in quick succession.
Robbie Willmott and Kevin Ellison replaced Shephard and Haynes as County tried to make their numerical advantage count but it looked like a point was all County were going to take after Amond and Cooper both stole in with late headers but neither player could find the target.
However, deep into injury time Ellison prodded the ball home from close range to ensure a third consecutive late winner at Rodney Parade.
Newport County AFC: Nick Townsend, Brandon Cooper, Matty Dolan, Mickey Demetriou, Liam Shephard (Robbie Willmott 76), Josh Sheehan, Jamie Devitt (Labadie 64), Ryan Haynes (Ellison 85); Scott Twine, Jamie Proctor (Padraig Amond 64), Tristan Abrahams.
Subs not used: Tom King, Ashley Baker, Scot Bennett.