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A rejuvenated Notts County were beaten 2-1 by Rochdale this evening at Meadow Lane.
Against the run of play, Craig Dawson put the Dale ahead early on with a fine half volley. Will Atkinson then doubled his team's lead shortly after, when he found the top corner with a powerful header.
In the opening stages of the second period, Lee Hughes' 13th goal of the campaign ended Notts' goal drought. Despite pushing for a second, it never came but there were plenty of positives to take from the match heading into a crucial six pointer with Dagenham & Redbridge at the weekend.
Following the departure of Paul Ince at the weekend, Caretaker Manager Carl Heggs took over first team control with the hope of ending a run of five consecutive losses. His passionate interview ahead of the game called for his players to give 100 per cent and the fans appeared to be fired up for the clash with last season's League 2 championship rivals.
Almost a year prior, Notts came away as 1-0 winners in a memorable meeting at Meadow Lane but this year the sides had contrasting aims: County fighting to avoid the drop and Rochdale chasing a spot in the Play-Offs. Although the Magpies' squad had greatly changed since then, two key figures from that season, Graeme Lee and John Thompson, returned to the starting 11.
With the vocal Kop behind them, Notts opened brightly but against the run of play they went behind only eight minutes in. A troublesome low corner from Nicky Adams found its way to Dawson, who slammed the ball into the bottom corner.
Despite going behind, County played with belief and Febian Brandy's trickery almost created an equaliser, only his promising low cross was cut out at the near post. From the resulting corner, Ricky Ravenhill volleyed powerfully at goal but his attempt was bravely blocked.
For the visitors, Scott Wideman cut inside from the wing and tested Stuart Nelson with a stern hit. The advancing full-back then provided Rochdale's second from the right, with his cross allowing Atkinson to find the top-corner with a strong headed finish.
Notts didn't look out of the game at all and twice came close to pulling one back. Brandy's deflected shot looped over and Dawson denied Lee Hughes from pulling the trigger, following a sharp link up with Craig Westcarr.
On 32 minutes, Westcarr came close himself after Brandy made space for him with some inventive trickery. The winger's strike from the edge of the box looked destined for the bottom corner, as Hughes tried to apply the finishing touch, but the ball cannoned back off the woodwork.
Westcarr threatened again 10 minutes later, when he latched onto Lee's long free kick into the area. First controlling with his chest, he proceeded to fire narrowly over.
Notts started the second half with the same passion and on 54 minutes they grabbed their first goal from open play since March 1. Stephen Darby's direct free kick was met by Lee and Hughes placed into the bottom corner from close range.
Any tension that remained was lifted and the volume in the home ends amplified - everyone believing that Notts could grab an equaliser. But, they could have been silenced on 66 minutes, as Matt Done drifted past two County players and forced Nelson into a tremendous reaction stop, which saw the goalkeeper divert the ball wide with an outstretched leg.
With 15 minutes remaining, Heggs introduced Burgess at the expense of Westcarr, at the same time reverting to a 4-3-3 formation. An injury to Ravenhill prompted his substitution for Conor Clifford, though he won't return to action for at least two games after picking up his 10th booking of the season.
In added time Chris O'Grady almost made it 3-1 with a hopeful punt that Nelson kept out with his knee. At the other end, substitute Alan Gow cleared the bar with a free kick.
Notts will consider themselves unlucky not to have taken a point but will be looking for three points on Saturday against Dagenham. The Magpies will reside in 20th until then, one point above the Daggers.
Attendance: 4,689 (353 Rochdale supporters)
Southwell Racecourse Man of the Match: Lee Hughes