Notts County slipped into the bottom four this afternoon after a frustrating loss against Exeter City.
Jamie Cureton gave the Grecians the lead against the run of play with a poacher's finish and Richard Logan doubled the advantage 14 minutes later with a neat strike at the near post. Lee Hughes pulled one back just before the break with an unstoppable header from a superb Ben Davies delivery.
Notts came out after the interval looking sharp but failed to make the most of their territorial dominance. And, capitalising on a mistake in midfield, Ryan Harley eased the pressure on his team with a fantastic solo goal, making it 3-1.
Only one win throughout October had left the Magpies just one place above the League 1 drop zone, meaning that a victory at St James' Park would be greatly welcomed. It appeared to be a fantastic opportunity to achieve a second away triumph of the campaign, as Exeter had lost three league fixtures on the bounce.
Despite winning in the FA Cup last Saturday, Paul Ince opted to make two changes to his starting 11. Jon Harley returned to left-back at the expense of Stephen Hunt and Alan Judge, who was cup-tied for the Gateshead meeting, started on the wing, ahead of Tom Ince.
The hosts had the better of the early exchanges and had two promising efforts inside the first 10 minutes. Liam Chilvers misjudged a high ball for the first, allowing Logan to strike wide from distance, and then Liam Sercome volleyed powerfully into the stands, after Mike Edwards had headed away Richard Duffy's troublesome long throw.
Notts weathered the early storm without looking majorly threatened and progressively worked their way on top. From this, Davies managed to find Edwards with one of numerous excellent deliveries but the home goalkeeper Artur Krysiak somehow managed to divert his thumping header behind for a corner.
Edwards' defensive partner, Liam Chilvers, was next to threaten for County, with Davies again the provider, this time from a corner. The centre-back rose high at the back post but had not one but two headers denied on the line by Scott Golbourne.
But, as has been the case far too many times this season, missed chances proved costly and on 18 minutes Cureton put the Grecians in front. A direct ball into the right channel saw Steve Tully beat the offside trap and when his low centre was palmed away by a stretching Rob Burch, Cureton nipped in to fire home the rebound.
Davies almost dragged Notts level in spectacular style after he had been given time to charge down the centre of the field. Rounding off the sharp counter attack, the winger clipped the bar with a ferocious hit from 20 yards out.
Things got worse shortly after, though, as Exeter doubled their lead with another excellent finish. Golbourne had raced down the left flank to deliver a low cross, which enabled Logan to nip in front of his marker and prod past Burch.
And it could have been 3-0 before the break if it hadn't been for Burch, who stood up well to push away Cureton's chipped strike. From the resulting corner, Troy Archibald-Henville looped a header over Burch but Harley was covering on the goal line.
Hughes missed a golden opportunity to pull one back with his head from another Davies corner but didn't fail with his next attempt in the last minute of the first half. From a set-play on the left wing, Davies whipped in a trademark free-kick and Hughes connected forcefully with his head, leaving Krysiak with no chance whatsoever of keeping it out.
The goal's timing was vital and Notts appeared to be lifted when they came out for the second period. Early pressure almost resulted in an equaliser, as well, when Karl Hawley turned sharply struck firmly towards the bottom corner, only for Krysiak to parry around his post.
Craig Westcarr was introduced on 64 minutes, completing his comeback from injury. Within two minutes of his introduction, Notts were 3-1 down.
Ricky Ravenhill, searching for Stephen Darby on the wing, had his pass intercepted by Exeter's Harley. The midfielder proceeded to surge into the Notts half and even though a number of yellow shirts retreated to marshal him wide of goal, he arrowed a stunning shot against the far post, which deflected back across goal, into the net.
Both Tom Ince and Neal Bishop were introduced in a further attempt to get the Magpies back into the game, though it was Judge that looked the most likely. The midfielder had been a source of energy all afternoon and he almost caught out Krysiak with a deflected punt 25 yards out.
Westcarr fired over and Ince called Krysiak into action once more but again it was Judge that came closest as the game entered four minutes of added time. His cross veered towards goal and cannoned off the crossbar, but still Notts were frustrated.
This was the final effort of note and County were unable to take anything from another long away trip. The meeting against Tranmere, who sit one place above in the table, now becomes a must-win occasion.
Attendance: 5,302 (284 Notts County supporters)
Magpie Player Man of the Match: Alan Judge