Exeter manager Matt Taylor praised his side for a battling display as they carved out a vital 1-0 League Two win at fellow promotion-hopefuls Newport.
The Grecians were not at their free-flowing best at Rodney Parade, but they defended superbly to nullify the hosts and their 25-goal top scorer Dom Telford.
And they claimed all three points thanks to Tim Dieng’s header from a Jack Sparkes free-kick after 72 minutes.
“It was a battle,” admitted Taylor. “I expected it to be more of a free-flowing game, but we never got any fluidity in our game.
“We didn’t get our passing game together and that’s credit to Newport and the way they played but, somehow, we found a way and it came down to a set-piece.
“Our best chances came from set-pieces and, fortunately, one went into the back of the net.”
Newport had the better of the chances in the first half with Aston Villa loanee Finn Azaz denied by goalkeeper Cameron Dawson and a block by defender Archie Collins.
Exeter did not muster a shot on target until Joe Day comfortably saved Sparkes’s long-range effort and Dieng’s winner was their first real moment of danger.
“Defensively, by hook or by crook, we kept them out,” added Taylor. “There was a bit of luck in there and some last-ditch defending and it got us the three points.
“Against one of the top-scoring teams in the division, a clean sheet was absolutely huge.
“And, as disappointed as I was with our in-possession play at times, at least we found a way to score.
“I feel we deserved the victory because of how well we defended in those difficult moments. That was the difference.”
While Exeter stay second, Newport slipped to eighth in the table but boss James Rowberry is certain that they can still challenge for promotion.
“It was disappointing to concede a goal from a set-play,” he said.
“When we were chasing the game later on, they opened us up once or twice but that was purely down to taking a centre-half off.
“I was disappointed with the result but can’t fault the lads’ effort.
“People have written Newport County off before and we have seen how that has turned out.
“We will just try to put things right. There is very much a Welshness, a Newport mentality that we have got – we will keep fighting to the wire.”