Newport County AFC maintained their place in Sky Bet League Two’s top seven with a goalless draw against play-off rivals Exeter City.
With the home side hot on the heels of the Exiles - with just three points separating the pair before kick-off - County knew there was little margin for error against Matt Taylor’s side if they wanted to remain in the play-off positions at the end of the day.
The Exiles enjoyed the better of the chances and came the closest to breaking the deadlock just before the half-hour mark when Lewis Collins’ header was kept out by Jokull Andresson, who somehow scrambled the ball to safety.
Josh Sheehan also brought a strong save out of the Grecians' goalkeeper in the first half but County were unable to find a way through as both sides settled for a point.
Exeter failed to register an effort on target and dropped to ninth in the table after Salford City's 2-0 victory over Mansfield Town, while the Ammies cut the gap on the Exiles to a point.
Manager Michael Flynn named an unchanged side from County’s 2-0 win over Crawley Town in mid-week, as Padraig Amond led the line on his 200th appearance for the Exiles. Matty Dolan, who missed out on County’s last two outings through concussion, returned to the bench in place of Jake Scrimshaw.
Exeter started on the front foot at St James Park and, after darting off his line to deal with Jack Sparkes’ long ball forward to safety early on, Tom King was again called into action from the throw-in that followed. Archie Collins’ cross took a nick off Lewis Collins and had the goalkeeper scrambling to his far post but the ball sailed just wide of the post.
The home side continued to threaten through Ryan Bowman and Jake Taylor, and County had Scot Bennett to thank for keeping the latter at bay when he raced into the penalty area before being dispossessed by the defender.
County then carved out their first chance to test Exeter goalkeeper Andresson when Mickey Demetriou’s cross picked out Collins in the penalty area. Collins escaped his marker Alex Hartridge and timed his jump well but saw his header kept out by the fingertips of the Grecians’ shot-stopper.
But the hosts quickly found themselves down the opposite end when a threatening ball from Sparkes found its way to Taylor, who prodded wide of the target.
County took a while to get in their stride but finished the half strongly and enjoyed two opportunities just before the interval. Liam Shephard, Collins, Amond and Sheehan all combined in a well-worked move before the latter’s low shot was tipped past the post by Andresson. Ryan Haynes then picked out Amond from the corner that followed but the striker’s header was gathered by Andresson as both sides headed for the tunnel level.
The Exiles began the second period well and brought another save out of Andresson when Hartigan slipped Collins through on goal. The midfielder cut inside on his right foot, sent Pierce Sweeney the wrong way and saw his effort denied by the Grecians goalkeeper for the second time.
Jake Caprice then picked out Bowman with a cross down the opposite end, but the striker failed to test King and headed wide of the target.
It proved to be Caprice’s last involvement as he was replaced by Josh Key 10 minutes after the interval as the Grecians looked to chase a winner. It was the substitute Key who enjoyed another opportunity for the hosts when he cut inside on his left foot inside the penalty area but failed to pick out the top corner as his shot sailed wide.
Collins looked the most threatening for the away side and continued to cause the home defence problems. Lewis made the most of a bad touch from Randell Williams and headed the ball into the path of Amond, who slipped Collins through on goal. The midfielder pulled the trigger but saw his shot deflect off Sweeney and roll behind for a corner as the spoils were shared.
Newport County AFC: Tom King, Ryan Haynes, Mickey Demetriou, Scot Bennett, Liam Shephard, Aaron Lewis, Anthony Hartigan, Josh Sheehan, Joss Labadie (C), Lewis Collins (Nicky Maynard 85’), Padraig Amond.
Subs not used: Nick Townsend, Matty Dolan, Joe Ledley, Kevin Ellison, Luke Gambin, Dom Telford.