Notts County's 16 game unbeaten streak came to an abrupt halt this afternoon in a 2-1 loss against Port Vale.
With both teams in the midst of unbeaten sequences it looked set to be a closely fought encounter at Vale Park. Should Rochdale lose, three points would secure the league title for Steve Cotterill's team, whereas Vale were chasing a spot in the play-offs.
The home side were fired up from the first whistle, their ambitions of promotion spurring them on. Inside the opening five minutes Louis Dodds slammed wide and Lee Collins capitalised on a slip by Stephen Hunt to shoot directly at Kasper Schmeichel.
After weathering the early storm Notts settled and almost went in front themselves when John Thompson was brought down on the right flank. Ben Davies whipped a teasing cross in behind the backline where Mike Edwards was inches short of connecting with his outstretched boot on the edge of the six yard box.
However, it was the Valiants that broke the deadlock through their top scorer Marc Richards, who capitalised on Notts' failure to fully clear the danger. Striking with vigour, his effort deflected wildly into the roof of the net, leaving Schmeichel with no chance.
Notts were chasing a game for the first time since the loss away at Bournemouth back in February. But they didn't have to wait long, as Craig Westcarr chased down a loose ball on the right before crossing perfectly for the unmarked Graeme Lee to head into the top corner.
More goals looked likely and another came five minutes later to put Vale 2-1 up. With plenty of room to settle on the left wing, Kris Taylor swung hopefully into a crowded area, but no Notts defender was able to connect and the ball somehow found its way into the far corner of the net.
The hosts were working hard, making it difficult for Notts to play football, though the chances were coming. Westcarr's free-kick almost crept into the bottom corner, only to be cleared off the line by Collins, and Hughes headed over at the back post following a deep centre from the right.
Luke Rodgers was brought on for Delroy Facey during the break to add a different dimension to Notts' attack. This followed on from Johnnie Jackson's introduction in the first half for an injured Davies, but it was Vale that threatened first.
Westcarr was caught in possession allowing Richards to race clear in pursuit of a second goal. Fortunately for the Magpies Schmeichel spread himself well to deflect the striker's attempt away with his leg.
Another injury, this time to Hughes, saw Notts' hopes of grabbing another equaliser take a blow. Rodgers and Westcarr made up the new look frontline and Jamie Clapham, on as a substitute, slotted into a defensive midfield berth.
It was Clapham that presented Rodgers with a rare chance, utilising some tidy footwork on the edge of the area. The lively striker fired on the turn, forcing Chris Martin to gather low to his left.
With 20 minutes remaining Notts edged further and further up the pitch. Vale were inviting the pressure and chances to snatch something started coming.
Rounding off some nice approach play, Thompson cut inside from the right and centred towards the feet of Westcarr. The forward struck without hesitation but the ball looped just over following a brave block.
Doug Loft almost killed the match off with a low free-kick at the other end of the pitch but Schmeichel, with his vision obscured, stooped on his goal line to palm away. On the counter Vale continued to look dangerous and during another breakaway move the newly introduced Sean Rigg rattled the woodwork.
Cotterill ordered Lee up top in one final throw of the dice as the game entered four minutes of stoppage time. He almost grabbed a late leveller as well, nodding a Thompson delivery just wide of the target.
Rochdale were defeated by Hereford at Edgar Street meaning that Notts missed out on a chance to be crowned champions. Although disappointing, another opportunity presents itself on Tuesday night when they travel to table propping Darlington.
Man of the Match: Graeme Lee
Attendance: 7,459(1,200 Notts County supporters)
Notts County: Kasper Schmeichel, John Thompson, Mike Edwards, Graeme Lee, Stephen Hunt, Craig Westcarr, Neal Bishop, Ricky Ravenhill, Ben Davies (Jackson 23), Lee Hughes, Delroy Facey (Rodgers 46).
Substitutes: Russell Hoult, Matt Hamshaw, Jamie Clapham, Karl Hawley, Luke Rodgers, Johnnie Jackson, Ade Akinbiyi.
Scorer(s): Lee 25
Yellow Card(s): Lee 79
Port Vale: Chris Martin, Anthony Griffith, John McCombe, Doug Loft, Marc Richards, Adam Yates, Louis Dodds (Taylor 59), Lee Collins, Craig Davies (Fraser 84), Kris Taylor, Lewis Haldane (Rigg 75).
Substitutes: Joe Anyon, Robert Taylor, Tommy Fraser, Sean Rigg, Lee Molyneux, Geoff Horsfield, Sam Morsy.
Scorer(s): Richards 20, Taylor 30
Yellow Card(s): Fraser 90
Report by: Dane Vincent