One goal was enough to send Notts County four points clear at the top of League Two in a 1-0 triumph over second placed Rochdale.
Eagerly anticipated by both sets of supporters, this match looked set to play a pivotal part in deciding who would lift the division's trophy at the end of the season. With a game in hand and a point better off, Notts held the advantage, making a win almost a necessity for Keith Hill's men.
This was evident in their early play and Chris O'Grady could have given them an early lead, only he was unable to direct Jason Kennedy's swift delivery from the right. Lee Hughes also came close in the early stages, looping over a Craig Westcarr centre.
It was Graeme Lee that was first to force a save out of a goalkeeper, though, during a scramble inside the penalty area. From a corner the ball fell to the defender who fired towards the bottom corner, forcing Frank Fielding to push away in an improvised manner.
Despite having the better of the early exchanges it was Rochdale that were dictating the game, maintaining possession for long periods with some tidy passing football. However, the home backline was standing up well and quashing any attacks in the final third.
Against the run of play Notts showed more of the ruthless finishing that has seen them win six matches on the bounce. Neal Bishop, making space for himself on the turn, spotted the run of Hughes with a through pass, enabling the striker to curl into the top corner from the edge of the box.
Ben Davies almost doubled the lead shortly after, as his side's confidence grew along with the noise emanating from the Kop. Completing a mazy run down the centre of the pitch, he fired narrowly wide of the bottom corner with a powerful, skidding drive.
The Dale had no choice but to come out attacking in the second half as a loss would make winning the title a long shot. 21 goal striker O'Grady was their biggest hope and was proving to be a handful when he held off Graeme Lee, before turning to strike over from 18 yards.
Notts were certainly not sitting back, soaking up the pressure, and came close twice within a minute. Ricky Ravenhill almost produced his second wonder goal in a week, striking inches wide, and Bishop rattled the crossbar with a hopeful punt from the corner of the area.
Delroy Facey was then handed three chances inside 10 minutes and should have doubled the lead with at least one of them. From a Hughes cross he headed over, then he failed to hit the target following some inventive dribbling by Westcarr, and with the final he called Fielding into action with a low, stinging effort.
Another goal looked like it was needed to firm the grip on another set of three points, especially when Andy Howarth arrived as a substitute for Rochdale. With his first touch the forward unleashed a stunning shot that had Kasper Schmeichel beaten, but not the crossbar.
Everyone in the stadium thought that County had their elusive second when Westcarr controlled delightfully and passed into the path of Hughes. Cutting inside his marker from the touchline, the front man's attempt looked destined for the far corner but somehow Fielding reached out to push around the post with his fingertips.
A wall of black and white stood in front of Schmeichel's goal as three minutes of added time was shown on the fourth official's board, standing up to everything that Rochdale had to throw at them. Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, during which O'Grady blazed over, the whistle was blown to great relief all around.
Celebrations ensued in the stands and on the pitch, for Notts now had one hand on the championship. It was definitely a party atmosphere created by the largest home attendance of the campaign.
PS Marsden Man of the Match: Neal Bishop
Attendance: 10,536(1,005 Rochdale supporters)
Notts County: Kasper Schmeichel, John Thompson, Mike Edwards, Graeme Lee, Stephen Hunt, Craig Westcarr, Neal Bishop, Ricky Ravenhill, Ben Davies, Lee Hughes, Delroy Facey.
Substitutes: Russell Hoult, Matt Hamshaw, Jamie Clapham, Karl Hawley, Luke Rodgers, Johnnie Jackson, Ade Akinbiyi.
Scorer(s): Hughes 30
Yellow Card(s): Lee 52
Rochdale: Frank Fielding, Scott Wiseman, Tom Kennedy, Nathan Stanton, Jason Kennedy, Gary Jones, Chris Dagnall (Obadeyi 81), Joe Thompson (Howarth 69), Chris O'Grady, Craig Dawson, Jason Taylor (Higgingbotham 67).
Substitutes: Kenny Arthur, Ciaran Toner, Andy Howarth, Topi Obadeyi, Kallum Higgingbotham, Rory McArdle, Marcus Holness.
Yellow Card(s): None
Report by: Dane Vincent