Town: Chris Weale, Jermaine Grandison, Darren Jones, Luke Summerfield (Bradshaw, 90), Rob Purdie, Reuben Hazell, Paul Parry, Matt Richards (c), Terry Gornell (Hall, 46), Marvin Morgan, Mark Wright
Subs: Joe Anyon, Tom Bradshaw, Ryan Doble, Michael Hector, Asa Hall, Joe Jacobson, Aaron Wildig
Notts County: Bartosz Bialkowski, Julian Kelly, Alan Sheehan (Regan, 42), Neal Bishop (c), Dean Leacock, Gary Liddle, Alan Judge, Jeff Hughes, Francois Zoko (Hughes L. 82), Yoann Arquin, Andre Boucaud (Labadie, 90)
Subs: Fabian Spiess, Enoch Showumni, Joss Labadie, Hamza Bencherif, Lee Hughes, Jake Wholey, Carl Regan
Referee: Mr. A. Madley
Assistants: Mr. M. Blackledge & Mr. D. Ford
Fourth Official: Mr. J. Law
Martin Wild reports from Meadow Lane
A late goal from substitute Lee Hughes cost Town a deserved share of the spoils in a game of high drama at Meadow Lane. Four goals inside seven second half minutes saw Town fall behind to a Francois Zoko goal before a Matt Richards penalty and a quite brilliant individual effort from Jermaine Grandison turned the game on its head. Jeff Hughes quickly levelled before namesake Lee struck the winner five minutes after coming on.
Graham Turner’s only changes to the team which earned a point at Stevenage a week ago came on the bench. Michael Hector returns after recovering from injury but he cannot dislodge Reuben Hazell who began his own comeback trail so impressively at the Lamex. And Jon Taylor’s knee injury opened the door for young striker Ryan Doble who is also named amongst the seven substitutes at Meadow Lane.
It was shirt-sleeve weather in Nottingham with the pitch mostly bathed in sunshine, other than the shadow cast across it by the huge main stand on the near side.
Chris Weale got an early touch when Zoko’s header fell gently into his arms from Alan Sheehan’s well directed cross from the left. There was an excellent early atmosphere inside the stadium with the hosts seeing plenty of the ball inside the opening five minutes pegging Town back deep inside their defensive third for much of that period.
Shrewsbury might have struck first though when Marvin Morgan put a little too much purchase on an intended square ball on the edge of the box, with both Richards and strike partner Terry Gornell well placed for the pass had it been executed better.
But it was mostly Notts pressure – and sustained pressure at that – and Hazell had to be brave when throwing his body in front of a firm drive from County’s Alan Judge to concede a corner – County’s third in the opening ten minutes.
Andre Boucaud was next to try and penetrate a stretched Town rearguard when he sent in a shot from distance towards the top corner, but Weale had plenty of time to size up the effort and turned it behind.
Despite having the bulk of play, twenty minutes had past and Salop had managed to stem the tide somewhat by having a spell themselves which saw two corners and a free-kick ask questions of the Magpies’ defence in relatively quick succession.
Shrewsbury’s best chance came on 25 minutes when Mark Wright’s wickedly deceptive free kick took out the whole of the County defence and Morgan might have done better than steer the ball wide. To be fair to the big front man he was at full stretch, with Notts keeper Bartosz Bialkowski in close proximity making the target look like playground goals rather than 8ft x 8yds.
On the half hour Town came close again when Luke Summerfield put Gornell into some space down the left channel. With Wright looking to get ahead of Gornell on the overlap, the number 24 cut inside and unleashed a terrific shot that looked destined for the top corner until it cleared the bar and post by a matter of inches.
Credit where credit is due, when Town were asked to defend they did so superbly with Grandison next to snuff out a dangerous cross that looked to pick out Zoko at the back post once more.
Richards smacked a set piece straight at Bialkowski before Summerfield’s shot moments later was charged down by Dean Leacock, with the effort again from outside the box.
Both sides took in liquid refreshments in balmy temperatures as play was held up due to an injury to Sheehan who was replaced by ex-Town defender Carl Regan four minutes before the break.
Half Time: Notts County 0 Town 0
Turner made a change at the interval with Asa Hall sent on in place of Gornell for what could only be assumed to be a tactical switch, with Shrews expected to play Morgan as the lone striker, and support likely to come from the penetrating runs of Hall from midfield.
It certainly looked like a 4-4-1-1 formation in the early exchanges with the substitute playing slightly ahead of both Richards and Summerfield.
Bialkowski did well to react to a dangerous looking cross-cum-shot from Morgan acrobatically turning the ball over, and in the next attack Judge blazed wide of the near post with a rising drive though Weale had the effort covered in any event.
A moments indecision by skipper Richards proved so costly for Town after 58 minutes. His intended back-pass was never going to make it and Weale decided to guard his goal than go in search of a ball he was unlikely to reach. Hughes seized on the opportunity and squared for Zoko who opened the scoring from six yards out.
Within two minutes Richards had atoned for his error. Morgan was adjudged to have been held off by Leacock and Richards was coolness personified from the spot sending Bialkowski the wrong way.
Before you had time to draw breath, the pendulum swung in the way of the visitors with a stunning goal. Grandison’s mazy run from just inside his own half took him past a number of flat-footed County players and by the time he’d advanced to the edge of the box he was central to goal and the shot was on. The tall defender nonchalantly found the corner with a low but precise left footed shot into the bottom corner. Cue delirium amongst the large travelling contingent.
The game was being played at a terrific pace and another Town error brought the home side level for a fourth goal in seven minutes. Wright’s attempted headed clearance flew back across goal and Hughes had a simple task with a header of his own to make it all-square again.
What an advert this was for League One football, providing rich entertainment for a crowd of just under 7,000. Both sets of supporters were responding in kind with terrific vocal backing for their respective sides with the quality of football ensuring excellent value for money.
With eight minutes left Curle sent on Hughes for goalscorer Zoko but there was no sign of any further movement on the away bench.
And three minutes from time Hughes struck to break Town’s hearts and set County on the path to a fourth win in five. Yoann Arquin kept the ball in play on the half way line as Hazell thought twice about making the touchline interception, and he was away in acres with the right side of Shrews’ defence totally exposed. He ran fully 40 yards and found Hughes with his back to goal but he controlled the ball before swivelling and finding the corner of the net to edge Notts back in front. It was so cruel on Town who once again had acquitted themselves superbly at a side occupying a top three place at kick-off.
Tom Bradshaw came on for the four additional minutes with Summerfield withdrawn but Notts were more than happy to see the game out without further incident.
Full Time: Notts County 3 Town 2