LESS a game of two halves, this had three thirds.

Shame then that underdogs Northwich, who thoroughly outclassed higher-ranked Newport for a couple of those, should still find time to let slip a two-goals lead.

Put simply, they blew it.

That, plus Exiles boss Justin Edinburgh making substitutions that helped change the course of a contest that appeared over when Ryan Wade authored a stunning second goal for Vics soon after half time.

His opposite number, Paul Simpson, believed that moment marked the beginning of the end though.

“It’s almost as if we panicked,” he rued afterwards.

“I think we caused ourselves a problem as we stopped doing the simple things we’d done so well up to that point. It was a messy after that.”

His team’s defending certainly was.

Substitute Jake Harris had the freedom of Macclesfield to steer an expert header from Lee Baker’s free kick past goalkeeper Ben Hinchliffe to halve Newport’s arrears on the hour.

More than one Northwich back marker had the chance to clear Paul Rodgers’ cross with five minutes left. None did, so Harris helped himself to a second, parity restoring, goal.

When Nat Jarvis, unmarked, met another Baker assist with an emphatic header in the last minute the visitors’ remarkable comeback was complete.

And, considering how awful County had been for more than an hour, that incredulity is well-placed.

“We were way off the pace,” admitted Edinburgh.

“I thought Northwich were full value for their lead because we simply weren’t in the game.”

The Blue Square Bet Premier outfit, two tiers above their opponents, were lucky to trail by a single goal at the interval.

Wayne Riley stabbed over Wade’s cross, then skewed off target when Nathan Woolfe invited him to shoot on the quarter hour.

At the other end, Elliott Buchanan’s feeble shot into the floor – diverted to safety by Northwich captain Ian Kearney – was the only deviation from the pattern.

Riley could not stretch far enough to reach Wade’s teasing cross on the half hour, but the hosts did not have to wait much longer for a richly-deserved breakthrough.

It was scruffy – Kearney claiming the goal from Riley’s corner despite Woolfe appearing to touch the ball last on the line – but their travelling fans cared little.

When Wade arrowed a brilliant second goal at the start of the second half, firing a perfectly-placed shot past Newport net-minder Glynn Thompson after racing on to Tom Field’s pass, Newport were on the brink.

Harris’ first goal, taken smartly, sewed a seed of doubt though it did not herald an onslaught.

But Vics, visibly tiring, did cede territory.

Hinchliffe gave a hint of their nervous disposition when he spilled Sam Foley’s fierce drive, but he was worked little.

Northwich resisted until 85 minutes, when Harris was in the right place to make the most of Rodgers’ centre.

Jarvis’ flying header was just cruel.

“We defended poorly for all three goals which looks horrible to people when they read we led 2-0,” added Simpson.

Vics Star Man David Fitzpatrick. Probably not played as much this season as his ability dictates, and his performance was proof of why.

Assured against whichever winger Newport chose to put up against him, the stand-in full back picked his moment to attack when it arose.

One foray forward in the second period took him past three tackles before he shot too high.

A word too for Nathan Woolfe and Ryan Wade, who tortured the Exiles’ full backs in the first half with their fluid movement and dribbling ability. The latter’s goal was stunning in its execution.

Vics (4-2-3-1) Hinchliffe (GK), Disney (Evans 90), Kearney, Collins, Fitzpatrick, Field, Roddy, Wade (Armstrong 86), Riley, Woolfe, Budrys (Clarke 76)
Subs not used Smyth, Short
Goals Woolfe 36, Wade 47

Newport (4-5-1) Thompson (GK), Pipe, Hughes, Yakubu, Baker, Rose (Harris 53), Minshull, Chapman (Knights 66), Jarvis, Foley, Buchanan (Rodgers 46)
Subs not used Potter (GK), Greening
Goals Harris 60, 85, Jarvis 89
Booked Jarvis (foul)

Referee Jeremy Simpson (Carnforth)
Attendance 601