A late goal from Connor Jennings condemned Newport County to a narrow 2-1 defeat against Tranmere Rovers at Prenton Park on Saturday afternoon.
Will Evans gave the Exiles the perfect start to the Sky Bet League Two fixture, finishing off a smart attacking move at the near post midway through the first half. Keiron Morris equalised for Rovers early in the second period before a late strike from Jennings earned Nigel Atkins's men all three points on home turf.
Manager Graham Coughlan made one change to the side that faced Barnet last weekend in the Emirates FA Cup, with Aaron Wildig replacing Scot Bennett in the starting eleven. Harry Charsley also continued his road to recovery by featuring on the substitutes bench.
The home side made a brisk start to proceedings and their early forays produced an opening chance inside five minutes. Rob Apter found Connor Jennings inside the County box, but he could only guide a header wide of the post.
At the other end, County had a great chance of their own to take the lead minutes later. With his back to goal, Omar Bogle turned defender Connor Wood cleverly before stinging the fingertips of Luke McGee, with Evans unable to finish from the follow-up.
The Exiles were rewarded for their spell of pressure and calved out an opening on 21 minutes. Shane McLoughlin’s in-swing cross from the right found the head of Wildig, with the midfielder eventually finding Evans, who hammed home a delightful strike into the near corner to net his 14th goal of the campaign.
Midway through the half, County looked to continue their good value as they surged to double their lead. With the Rovers coughing up possession in midfield, Wildig picked out the on-running Seb Palmer-Houlden down the right, with his effort firing narrowly wide of Mcgee’s goal.
With just a few minutes remaining, Townsend was forced into a strong save, denying a low effort from Jenning’s once again who peeled his way free within the County box. That was before Brad Walker’s in-swinging corner rattled the woodwork.
Immediately at the other end, a swift counter-attack saw Evans slide in Bogle but his left-footed strike was well kept out by the outstretched McGee, as County took a one-goal lead into the break.
Newport set about looking to add to their lead from the off in the early stages after the restart, and only a fine interception from Lee O’Connor denied McLoughlin a route through on goal.
Immediately at the other end, though, it was the home side who levelled the scoring through Keiron Morris in the 56th minute. After County failed to clear their lines, the forward stabbed home a smart finish to beat Townsend at the near post.
After absorbing a spell of pressure, County broke well down near the left and had a shout for a penalty kick midway through the second period. Bogle navigated his way through centre-backs Davies and Wood before being brought down by McGee inside the box, though referee Seb Stockbridge waved away any appeals.
With just two minutes of the contest remaining, Rovers earned themselves a winner after their persistent late pressure paid off. Kristian Dennis’ low strike ricocheted off Ryan Delaney before Jennings swept home a smart finish at the far post to hand the hosts the lead.
In the dying embers, County pushed for a late equaliser, but it was Tranmere who secured all three points in Birkenhead.
The Exiles return to action on Tuesday night with a trip to the Hive to face Barnet in the Emirates FA Cup Second Round replay (7.45pm).
Newport County: Townsend, Payne, Delaney (C), Clarke (Bondswell 83’), McLoughlin, Baker, Wildig (Bennett 64’), Morris, Palmer-Houlden (Wood 87'), Bogle, Evans (Charsley 46’).
Substitutes: Maxted, Waite, Rai.
Tranmere Rovers: Mcgee, O'Connor, Davies (C), Yarney, Wood, Apter (Saunders 67’), Walker, Hendry, Morris, Jennings, Dennis (Jolley 90').
Substitutes: Robson, Hawkes, Mcalear, Norris, Belehouan.