Notts County kicked off 2011 in fine style with a convincing 3-0 win over Walsall this afternoon.
Notts started the game brilliantly and were two goals ahead within a quarter of an hour. Craig Westcarr tucked away his eighth of the season, despite calls for offside from the home fans, and Lee Miller headed home his first goal in a County shirt seven minutes later.
Krystian Pearce added a third after the break, punishing the hosts for a couple of missed chances. More could have followed but Notts fans will undoubtedly be happy with the performance and three points.
The Magpies were looking to make it five games unbeaten, following on from a good point away at Plymouth. Three points would be highly welcomed in pulling the team further away from the relegation places, as well as ending a poor run away from Meadow Lane, which has seen Notts fail to win in over three months.
But, Paul Ince's side were without top-scorer Lee Hughes for the fixture, after he came down with an illness, meaning Westcarr would switch from the wing to attack, alongside Miller. Thomas Ince, who impressed from the bench against the Pilgrims, came into the starting 11, as Notts searched for a first ever victory at the Banks's Stadium.
Perhaps it was going to be the day for County to put an end to both long-standing statistics, as Westcarr grabbed an opener inside nine minutes. There were calls for offside from Mike Edwards' hopeful pass but play was waved on, allowing Westcarr to beat home goalkeeper Jonny Brain at his near post.
The lead could have been doubled shortly after when Miller flicked Ince's volley narrowly wide. Westcarr also came close from his strike-partner's through pass but this time the legs of Brain denied him.
It was on 16 minutes that Notts went 2-0 up, rounding off an exciting passing move. Jon Harley eventually managed to swing a first-time cross towards the back post, which the unmarked Miller directed into the bottom corner with his head.
Notts continued to look dangerous with every attack and Harley nearly added a third with a stern hit that skidded inches off target. However, Walsall were beginning to grow into the game a little and Rob Burch was required to keep out both Steve Jones and Julian Gray with two low saves - the first, a block with his legs, being particularly impressive.
Brain had to produce a fine stop at the other end of the pitch, with half time fast approaching, to keep the scores at 2-0. Ince had jinked his way past Ryan McGivern on the right wing, before forcing the stopper to keep out his goal-bound prodded effort with a strong arm.
The hosts could have pulled at least one goal back in the early stages of the second period. Matt Richards cleared the bar with a fierce, bending free kick and Gray somehow managed to place the ball wide after Burch failed to claim a long ball into the box.
Alan Judge should have punished these missed opportunities when Darryl Westlake failed to deal with a clearance. Ben Davies took advantage to set Judge free but Brain reached out to turn his strike over for a corner.
And, it was from the Davies' set-piece delivery that Notts went three ahead. Stooping at the near-post, Pearce squeezed the ball into the bottom corner with a well-placed header - his second since returning to the side in the middle of December.
From Harley's powerful, headed clearance, Ince thought he'd netted Notts' fourth, though his placed shot deflected back off the foot of the post. Within a minute, Mike Edwards came close, as well, volleying straight at Brain from Davies' diagonal cross.
Notts will be delighted to take four points from two festive away fixtures - ending a winless run on the road in the process. Now it's back to Meadow Lane for a tough tie with Hartlepool, which could lift the team to mid-table.
Attendance: 4,131 (907 Notts County supporters)
Magpie Player Man of the Match: Ben Davies