Everyone played their part, from front to back, and despite two frustrating setbacks Notts County overcame Port Vale to climb out of the Sky Bet League 1 drop zone. Vale had taken a two-goal lead through controversial goals – a Curtis Thompson own goal and a Gavin Tomlin finish – but doubles from Jimmy Spencer and Jamal Campbell-Ryce secured an important 4-2 victory.
Haydn Hollis’s suspension meant a shake-up in the home defence. Regular left-back Alan Sheehan moved inside to partner Hayden Mullins at the heart of the back four and two new full-backs lined up either side of them.
Gareth Roberts made his comeback to the squad at left-back to deputise Sheehan. At right-back, Curtis Thompson replaced Mustapha Dumbuya, who dropped to the bench.
Kick-off was put back to 3.07pm in respect and remembrance of the 96 football supporters that died as part of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. The minute’s silence was observed impeccably by both sets of supporters.
County waited until the eighth minute to produce the first chance of the afternoon, following fine work by Jamal Campbell-Ryce in the right channel. The winger won a corner for the Magpies, which was met at the back post by Liddle and smothered on the goal line by away goalkeeper Sam Johnson.
The Notts faithful grew increasingly frustrated as a number of decisions refereeing against their side, including a challenge on the right wing. From the resulting in-swinging free-kick by Myrie-Williams, Thompson’s attempt at a defensive header ended up in his own net.
Moments after the opener, the fans were infuriated by Richard Duffy’s dangerous lunge on Jack Grealish. They called for red but a caution was the only punishment.
On 18, Vale almost doubled their lead, after the home backline could only clear as far as Billy Knott on the edge of the box. The midfielder unleashed half volley that would have dipped under the crossbar had Bartosz Bialkowski not gained a vital fingertip touch.
Grealish looked a threat every time he had the ball at his feet on the left and he nearly had the ball in the net in the 21st minute. The on-loan Aston Villa wideman beat two men to get into the box and had a stern drive bravely blocked by Anthony Griffith.
More controversy followed when Vale added their second goal, as Thompson’s clearance appeared to be handled by Myrie-Williams. The forward then sent Thompson tumbling to the ground before his low cross saw Tomlin touch home, despite Sheehan’s best efforts to hack off the line.
Notts could easily have let their heads drop but it was quite the opposite. They were harshly behind and they looked determined to put things right with every aspect of their play.
Campbell-Ryce led the comeback charge on the right with his direct running at the away rearguard. His unrelenting hard work paid off when, after beating a number of players, he picked out Spencer, who found the top corner with a forceful header.
The Magpies were hungry for an equaliser and Josh Vela was nearly the man to find it following an excellent passage of play. A Roberts cross was touched into the midfielder’s path by Liddle, but his shot was superbly palmed behind by Johnson.
County made it 2-2 in the 34th minute, following more tricky dribbling by Campbell-Ryce, who found a way between two defenders and delivered a low cross towards Spencer. The striker made no mistake and swept into the bottom-right corner – a fantastic goal.
Campbell-Ryce – and the home fans – felt that Notts should have been awarded a penalty when his cross was handled, only for the calls to be waved away. In quick response, on the break, Vale could have punished Notts after Tom Pope’s flick on was nodded over by Tomlin.
The Magpies could easily have gone into half time ahead, as Sheehan curled a free-kick agonisingly wide of the right-hand post and Gary Liddle watched an effort charged down. During three minutes of added time, Bialkowski and Mullins had to combine to keep out Tomlin, who had met a delightful Knott pass inside the six-yard box.
Myrie-Williams’ fiercely driven corner threatened to put Coventry back in front early into the second period but Roberts and Thompson battled to clear at the near post. This proved to be a vital piece of work, as Notts made it 3-2 shortly after.
Grealish glided into the box with a display of brilliant footwork, which left a number of Vale defenders in his shadow. The winger then drove across the face of goal where Campbell-Ryce slammed into the back of the net.
Vale were restricted to attempts from distance on the whole but substitute Ben Williamson came close just seconds after his introduction from the bench. A high ball into the box allowed him to prod at goal but Bialkowski remained alert and smothered the ball.
Ronan Murray nearly got in on the goal action when Campbell-Ryce found him with a neat pass into the area. The Irishman skipped away from his marker and struck wide of the mark.
For large periods, it was backs against the wall for the Magpies, though clearances from the likes of Thompson and solid goalkeeping Bialkowski kept Vale at bay. It was nervy for everyone associated with the club – especially when Tomlin rattled the woodwork.
From the left, Tomlin cut inside and rifled against the far post. The ball looked goalbound off Bialkowski’s back but the Pole gained another important touch and Pope touched wide.
It was a big scare but Notts reacted perfectly, as outstanding hold up play by Spencer allowed his side to break. The frontman fed Grealish and the winger, after carrying the ball into the final third, found Campbell-Ryce, who placed out of Johnson’s reach, into the far corner.
Vale continued to push for a way back into the game and Bialkowski produced his best save of the game in the closing stages. Pope applied a thumping header and the stopper somehow tipped over with an acrobatic parry.
Added time was played out with possession football to chants of ‘It’s just like watching Juve’ – a nice touch for the Italian Magpies in attendance for the game. It was a big win for Notts that lifted them out of the relegation zone ahead of another crucial fixture away at Bristol City.
ATTENDANCE: 5,613 (including 1,059 away supporters)
JAMAL CAMPBELL-RYCE | It could have gone to numerous players but the winger was involved in all four of Notts goals - two assists and two goals. Great showing.
Look out for full reaction and post-match highlights on Magpie Player. NEXT:
Notts County V Bristol City - Friday 18 April (3pm Kick-Off) @ Ashton Gate (BUY TICKETS)
Photos by JMS Photography