Newport County AFC fell to a frustrating defeat to promotion hopefuls Cambridge United at Rodney Parade.
The Exiles more than matched their opponents and created plenty of chances in a thrilling encounter but were undone by a late header from Declan Drysdale.
The men in amber controlled large periods of the game and produced a number of free-flowing moves but, despite pushing Cambridge until the final whistle, they couldn’t find a way past the stubborn U’s backline.
The Exiles made three changes as they welcomed back Ryan Haynes from injury and that saw Aaron Lewis move over to the right. Padraig Amond and Kevin Ellison also came into the starting XI to bolster the attack.
The U’s started brightly under the South Wales sun and forced Nick Townsend into a brilliant point-blank save after Paul Mullin picked out strike partner Joe Ironside with an inch-perfect cross.
County soon took control of the game, passing it across the field confidently, and responded instantly with a long-range effort from Josh Sheehan stinging the palms of Cambridge shot-stopper Callum Burton, who was born in the market town of Newport in England.
Lewis, who did not look out of place on the opposite wing, almost caught Burton out with a swerving strike midway through the first half but the goalkeeper managed to parry it away from danger.
Neither side were sitting back, which meant for an entertaining game, and after a spell of sustained pressure Scot Bennett fizzed a half-volley towards Burton’s goal but it sailed just over the crossbar.
Despite foraying forward, he was doing his job well in defence alongside Liam Shephard, filling in at centre back, and Mickey Demetriou – who was making his 200th County appearance.
The Exiles started the second half as they ended the first but Burton was, again, up to the task with a block at the near post to keep out Ellison.
The entertaining nature of the game also continued with Demetriou heading Luke Hannant’s curling effort onto the crossbar to keep the score level. The woodwork came to County’s rescue again when Mullin fired against the post from a few yards out after Ironside knocked the ball across goal.
Manager Michael Flynn decided to freshen up the attack just shy of the hour mark with academy graduate Lewis Collins and Nicky Maynard replacing Ellison and Taylor.
Sheehan was the next to try his luck as County continued to dominate but Burton batted his fierce free kick away.
The hosts felt they should have been awarded a penalty with many of the players feeling a Sheehan shot was blocked with a hand but referee Thomas Bramall ignored the appeals and then brandished a yellow card to Flynn for his protests.
Luke Gambin was introduced for the final 15 minutes, in place of Amond, to try and add that missing spark to the County attack.
However, with 10 minutes left Cambridge opened the scoring. A free kick from the left of the box was met by a Drysdale header that Townsend couldn’t keep out.
Dom Telford replaced Lewis for the final few minutes as the Exiles looked to salvage a point but Cambridge held to condemn County to a harsh defeat.
Newport County AFC: Nick Townsend; Liam Shephard, Scot Bennett, Mickey Demetriou; Aaron Lewis (Dom Telford 82), Josh Sheehan, Joss Labadie (C), Ryan Haynes; Ryan Taylor (Nicky Maynard 57), Padraig Amond (Luke Gambin 76), Kevin Ellison (Lewis Collins 57).
Subs not used: Tom King, David Longe-King, Joe Ledley.