SUBSTITUTE Tristan Abrahams levelled from the penalty spot to earn Newport County AFC a deserved draw with League Two leaders Exeter City at a sweltering Rodney Parade.

The table-toppers had taken a controversial early lead from a disputed corner, but County battled their way back into the game to claim a point.

And they could even have won it after a much-improved second-half display.

But Exeter remain the only undefeated side in the division and Michael Flynn’s team retain their unbeaten home record as they drop to seventh in the table after 10 games.

Corey Whitely and Jamille Matt replaced Danny McNamara and Abrahams in the two changes to the starting XI at Macclesfield Town on Tuesday.

Whitely and Matt had combined to seal the win after coming off the bench against Port Vale the last time County were at Rodney Parade on September 7 but it was Abrahams, on for Padraig Amond at half-time, who made the difference this time.

McNamara dropping to the bench meant a change of formation as well, with Scot Bennett slotting into a back three alongside Mark O’Brien and Kyle Howkins.

Robbie Willmott and Ryan Haynes were deployed as wing-backs either side of Josh Sheehan and Joss Labadie, with Whitely playing just behind Matt and Amond up front.

That switch allowed Willmott to make more of an impact going forward down the right flank, but the Exiles looked uncharacteristically shaky in defence in the early stages.

Nicky Laws saw a shot deflected behind and Tom King had to be alert to keep a fierce header from Pierce Sweeney at the far post.

County will feel aggrieved about the way they went behind in the 15th minute as referee Neil Hair appeared to blow up for a foul on Labadie after Exeter had taken a corner only to order a retake rather than award the hosts a free-kick.

But Flynn’s men were guilty of switching off as the set-piece came in at the second attempt and Lee Martin wriggled away from Haynes to tap in from close range.

Exeter continued to look dangerous after that but they were mostly content to sit back, soak up the pressure and look to hit County on the break.

The hosts made most of the running for the remainder of the first half, with Matt forcing a smart save from Lewis Ward soon after the goal and Labadie heading wide from Haynes’ cross.

Whitely went closest to an equaliser before the interval as Matt controlled a high ball and laid it off for the former Ebbsfleet United man to fire goalwards from the edge of the area.

But his shot was too close to Ward, who got down well to his right to palm it away to safety.

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Abrahams replaced Amond for the second half and County again took the game to the visitors, as they had to do.

Two minutes after the restart, Whitely released Abrahams down the right with a defence-splitting ball and Matt fired inches wide from the substitute’s cross.

And more good work from Whitely on the right produced another chance for Matt shortly afterwards but he couldn’t control the ball and Willmott’s effort was blocked before Labadie blazed over.

There was still danger at the other end as Haynes nearly headed into his own net as he cleared a Jack Sparkes cross.

But County continued to press and Matt again went close as he headed wide from a Willmott free-kick.

And the equaliser duly arrived on 64 minutes when Sheehan was upended by Parkes in the box and Abrahams sent Ward the wrong way from the spot.

That got Rodney Parade rocking and the home fans sensed that three points were there for the taking.

Haynes went close with a free-kick that was deflected just wide and Howkins then headed over the top from a corner.

Dolan replaced the hobbling Matt and Whitely made way for Dominic Poleon, who was making his home debut, late on but County couldn’t force a winner.

Dean Moxey blasted a shot over for Exeter and King almost gifted Grecians substitute Jayden Richardson a goal in stoppage time, but Sheehan cleared the danger and both sides had to settle for a point apiece.

County: King; Howkins, Bennett, O’Brien; Willmott, Sheehan, Labadie, Haynes; Whitely (Poleon, 79); Amond (Abrahams, 46), Matt (Dolan, 75)

Subs not used: Townsend, McNamara, Nurse, Maloney

Booked: Sheehan

Referee: Neil Hair

Attendance: 4,762 (736 Exeter)

Argus star man: Bennett